Many students entering university already have a variety of experiences with teamwork, but it is here where students will truly begin to deepen their understanding of working collaboratively. François Chiocchio, an associate professor in human resource management and organizational behaviour, is focusing his research on the characteristics of successful teams. Chiocchio, who is a new faculty member at the Telfer School of Management, has developed a unique perspective on why we struggle with teamwork and how we can get better at it.

Why is it important for students to learn teamwork?

We live in a connected world and, whether we like it or not, we’re going to be connected more intensely and in more diverse ways. Students need to understand and be prepared for that. In order to better connect, students need to understand and develop the attributes, skills and behaviours required for successful teamwork.

What makes team projects particularly valuable?

Class projects are a great way for students to learn how to be good team players. A project mimics the ambiguity and complexity of the real world. The classroom setting controls certain unknowns in the project, but overall, it is ambiguous and complex, which is exactly how the real world is.

Why do group projects sometimes lead to conflict?

For students, there is so much to learn that when a conflict presents itself, it tends to escalate spectacularly. It’s fairly common to hear students ask to have a team member removed in the first two weeks of the project, even if that’s not really a viable solution in the “real world.” In our professional lives, we know we can’t choose who is on our team, so exclusion is not seen as a solution. But all teams – whether composed of students or professionals –lack conflict management skills.

Group projects can be incubators of creativity, pride, and commitment. Sometimes, focusing on the positive helps in managing conflicts when they occur.

Helping people collaborate better will result in less conflict. This is one of the takeaways from my studies on teamwork in health care settings and interprofessional environments.

What about conflicts over individual performance?

Social loafers, or those who tend to withhold effort towards team tasks, may not intentionally set out to ride on the team’s coattails. Oftentimes, they can be excluded by others for a variety of reasons. Those doing the exclusion prefer to blame social loafing, but they are in fact contributing to the problem.

It’s a complicated issue that most people, not only students, don’t know how to deal with.

What advice would you have for those working on a team?

Even if you don’t like group work and prefer doing things individually, you can develop your skills and get better at teamwork. Some of us like teamwork, but aren’t terrific at it. Either way, it’s important to not let our preferred way of dealing with things get in the way of what the situation requires. Good team players learn to adapt. Those who are good at teamwork and are perceived that way by teammates do two things consistently: first, they commit publicly to tasks and deliver. Second, when they realize they cannot deliver as promised, they are open and proactive about it.

Read the full article on the Gazette website [This link is no longer available]