What is Teamwork Competency?
Teamwork competency is the ability to work with others as a cohesive unit in pursuit of a common goal, to share responsibility and rewards, and to contribute to the team as a while, leading to the team's success.
Chan, CKY (2021)
Teamwork competency comprises of a range of interrelated abilities such as flexibility and adaptability, communication competency, professional values and ethics, which are reflected in the key principles of teamwork proposed by Salas, Burke, and Cannon‐Bowers (2000).
How to Be a Team Player?
In order to promote effective teamwork in schools or workplaces, team members should do the following:
Be clear about the goals they need to work together for;
Have confidence or faith in other members and believe that each of them is putting the best interest of the team ahead of their individual priorities;
Develop a strong sense of group commitment;
Encourage reasonable risks;
Encourage creative and innovative ideas during discussions and operations;
Communicate effectively and respectfully (in other words, constructive feedback is welcome);
Engage in continuous improvement after receiving feedback;
Solve teamwork problems and conflicts together;
Accomplish the required tasks and work productively with others; and
Practice participative leadership or take turns to act as team leaders and players.
Effective teamwork requires people to work as a cohesive unit. The tips mentioned above can help individuals collaborate with others by focusing their efforts in a common direction and achieving the same outcome which can only be reached by working together.
For details, please visit Defining Teams and Teamwork (2021), Heathfield (2021), and The Five Elements of Successful Teamwork (2016).
Are You a Team Player?
To be a team player, you should be able to:
Offer support and ideas to others;
Work together in a cohesive unit and listen to others’ opinions;
Build and maintain working relationships; and
Are You a Team Player?
Why is Teamwork Competency Important?
Teamwork competency is a vital element in today’s workplaces. According to Job Outlook Survey (National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2021), teamwork is one of the top skills that employers screen for during the recruitment and selection process. In other words, the job applicants who can demonstrate teamwork skills are more likely to find employment. In addition, research (Cross, Rebele, & Grant, 2016) suggests that ‘the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more’. Thus, we can see that teamwork dominates much of the work done in organisations today. Presumably, this is due to the fact that companies usually adopt a project-based approach to completing different tasks. By doing so, they are able to draw upon different members’ unique strengths in order to maximise the outcomes of different projects or tasks. Small and collaborative teams are found to be effective, particularly in science and technology-based industries. Such success is likely to lead to the wider implementation of teamwork-dependent projects across several industries.
Given this increasing organisational emphasis, many schools include the development of teamwork skills as one of the learning objectives in their curricula – for instance, in management education, by adopting a project-based approach to learning (Brutus & Donia, 2010; Fellenz, 2006). Thus, teamwork skills are important to students. By working alongside people with different personalities, backgrounds, and cultures in the same group, students can practise how to communicate with each other and persuade others to move in the same direction, (self-)monitor progress, provide constructive feedback, accept critiques in a more open-minded manner, and learn from one another. Hence, teamwork is always an incredible lesson and an excellent way to gather different competencies that will help students excel academically and, subsequently, make them a better candidate for any position in the future world. Therefore, students are encouraged to learn and practise teamwork skills while in school or as early as possible.
For details, please refer to Flavin (2018) and Youth Employment UK (2021).
How is Teamwork Competency Developed?
What are the Unique Challenges of Teamwork Competency?
Teamwork skills have many potential benefits, as stated in the section Why is teamwork important; yet, working as a team can be very difficult and frustrating. According to Assessment Resources at HKU, Koh and Hill (2009), and Saghafian and O’Neill (2018), working as a team can be difficult due to the following:
Absence of a suitable team task;
Uncertainty about the roles of members and the project goals;
Failure to proceed in the same direction;
Lack of trust;
Conflict and tension;
Failure to share information;
Low team engagement;
Lack of transparency;
Absence of long-term thinking;
Poor management; and
Working in silos.
For details, please refer to Flint (2016) and 5 Common Challenges Every Team Encounters (2021).
Challenges of Teamwork Via the Online Environment
Collaboration is challenging when teams work together face to face. It is even more difficult when working online. As suggested by Koh and Hill (2009) and Saghafian and O’Neill (2018), the challenges faced by people undertaking online teamwork are as follows:
Some members may resist online collaboration, as they are afraid of progress monitoring by their peers and supervisors online;
The lack of proximity may pose a problem;
It may become difficult to focus on team tasks due to frequent distractions online;
It may become difficult to manage distant/delayed communications (especially if the members are in different time zones or have poor Internet connections) and resolve misunderstandings; and
It may generate unfamiliarity in social (face-to-face) interactions in the long run.
If collaborations are too challenging, people may lose the confidence and faith to develop teamwork skills and thus resist collaboration. This, in return, will further increase the difficulty of learning teamwork skills. Additionally, it becomes difficult to evaluate an individual’s contribution within the team. In fact, assessing an individual’s teamwork skills could be very challenging.
How Can We Develop Teamwork Competency?
Some of the following strategies could be used to help students develop teamwork competency:
Provide training in teamwork skills (for an example of teamwork training (Hastie, 2018), please refer to the end of this section);
Design a project-based teamwork task for students to work together on;
Build some low-stakes tasks or give students a chance to practice teamwork in a few small team tasks before moving on to completing the final task;
Ask students to make and sign a group contract in which they articulate ground rules and group goals/policies (for more details, please see Making Group Contracts (2021); for an example of team contract;
Ask students to periodically assess/reflect on how they are working together (for example, through individual and team readiness assurance tests (Sibley, 2018));
Teach students effective decision-making methods and strategies for conflict resolution (for a list of decision-making methods and strategies, please visit Group Decision Making (2021)); and
Teach students effective methods for giving and receiving feedback (for details, please refer to Receiving and Giving Effective Feedback (2021)).
TeamUP Training for Developing Teamwork Skills (Hastie, 2018)
Hastie (2018) employed a TeamUP model to provide training in teamwork skills to midwifery undergraduates through lectures, collaborative tutorials, group assignments, reflections in team meetings and online surveys. First, the students were lectured about the five important components of developing teamwork competency, which comprise of the following: (1) Fostering a Team Climate, (2) Project Planning, (3) Facilitating Teams, (4) Managing Conflict, and (5) Quality Individual Contribution to the Group Project. This was done over three years of their midwifery degree.
After the lectures, the students attended tutorials for each component. In class, they were required to complete a series of group activities, for example, a role play about midwife practices, to finetune their teamwork skills. In this role play exercise, the students were asked to discuss an assigned scenario, consider the best way to address the issue at hand, act out the play in front of the whole class, and respond to the critiques raised after the play. During this process, the students learned how to cooperate with each other to achieve the same goal, as well as provide and receive peer feedback.
In addition to in-class activities, the students were asked to complete a series of teamwork assignments, including but not limited to making posters and brochures as well as participating in debates. For each group assignment, they submitted a reflection on their own teamwork behaviours along with the assignment. This gave them a chance to self-evaluate their teamwork skill development.
Lastly, the students were asked to meet with their team members regularly to discuss and reflect on both their own and other team-members’ teamwork skill development based on the five components of teamwork taught in the lectures. After discussion, they had to fill in online surveys to provide information regarding their findings. On completion of each survey, the survey information was automatically emailed to the relevant student for self-improvement. This information, together with the self-reflections, were further marked and commented on by the teachers using the TermUP Rubric, accounting for 50% for the final marks of the group assignments. Details of the TermUP Rubric will be delineated in the section titled Assessment.
Therefore, through a series of lectures, tutorials, group assignments, as well as team meetings and online surveys for self- and peer-evaluations, the students were given a chance to learn, practice, and evaluate their teamwork skill development in the course of their undergraduate degree.
How Should I Assess Teamwork Competency?
Assessing teamwork competency can be difficult, as it is a complex, dynamic, multidimensional phenomenon (Salas et al., 2004) and any assessment system employed must be able to capture the characteristics of teamwork: flexibility and adaptability, leadership, professional values and ethics, communication competency, organizational and planning skills (Salas, Burke, & Cannon‐Bowers, 2000). These characteristics have been operationalised in various ways across a wide variety of assessment tools (e.g., rubrics and questionnaires) (Gardner & Hull, 2019), which will be further discussed in the following sections.
Rubrics (TeamUP Rubric)
The TeamUp rubric was developed from the Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE) teamwork rubric led by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) (Hastie, Fahy, & Parratt, 2014). This rubric is one of the most common tools that is used to teach, practise, and evaluate teamwork skills and associated behaviours in five domains: fostering a team climate, planning projects, facilitating teams, managing conflict, and ensuring quality individual contribution to a group project (Hastie, 2018). Each domain consists of seven items (35 items in total), which are articulated as a particular behavioural indicator or performance criterion (Britton et al., 2017). Please find below an example of the TeamUP rubric (in the domain of managing conflict):
Hastie, Fahy, and Parratt (2014), Hastie (2018), and Britton et al. (2017) employed the above TeamUP rubric in universities to conduct teamwork assessment. While the first two emphasised their evaluation on undergraduate midwifery students, the last focused the assessment on undergraduate drama students. Although all three studies employed the same TeamUP rubric for teamwork assessment, their manner of assessment was quite different. While Hastie, Fahy, and Parratt (2014) and Hastie (2018) asked students to provide peer feedback in terms of colours, as in red, amber, yellow, and green (see Figure 2 for an example), Britton et al. (2017) asked students to rate their team performance on a five-point frequency scale, ranging from 0 (never) to 4 (always) (see Figure 3 for an example). Both assessment methods tended not to emphasise marks as the focus of attention (Boud, 2010) for assessment. In addition to assessment, both midwifery and drama students were also taught the skills articulated on the rubric through lectures and related tutorials before conducting the assessment. Since the TeamUP rubric requires students to provide self- and/or peer evaluations, the quality of student feedback would be the major limitation of this rubric. For example, students might be fearful that their honest assessment would lead to a team member’s failure in the assessment. This limitation of peer feedback, however, is not specific to the TeamUP rubric only.
Examples of Assessment Approaches for Teamwork Competency
A Sample of the TeamUP Rubric in the Specific Domain of Managing Conflict (Adapted from Hastie, Fahy, & Parratt, 2014)
A Sample of the TeamUP Rubric (Adapted from Britton et al., 2017)
Questionnaires (Teamwork Attitudes Questionnaire)
Another prominent tool for teamwork assessment, particularly for healthcare professionals, is the teamwork attitudes questionnaires. One of the examples is named as TeamSTEPPS, which stands for Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety. This TeamSTEPPS teamwork attitude questionnaire (T-TAQ) is based on more than 25 years of research on team performance (Baker, Beaubien, & Holtzman, 2003). It assesses five core components of teamwork (i.e., team structure, leadership, communication, mutual support, and situation monitoring) in 30 items, which have been validated in the literature (Salas, Sims, & Burke, 2005). Each component has six items with five response options that range from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) (Battles & King, 2010). For details, please refer to the samples found on the website of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Unlike the TeamUP rubric contextualising in higher education, Baker et al. (2010), Hall-Lord et al. (2010), and Vertino (2014) administrated the T-TAQ for teamwork assessment in workplaces, especially in the healthcare industry. These studies support the idea that the T-TAQ provides a potentially useful tool for assesing individual attitudes related to the role of temwork in the healthcare delivery. Yet, such usefulness should be combined with TeamSTEPPS mentoring and training (Vertino, 2014) in order to promote a signficiant change in communication and staff morale improvement as well as patient satisfaction, thereby making healthcare safer for everyone.
Others – Comprehensive Assessment of Team Member Effectiveness (CATME)
CATME is a web-based programme for teamwork evaluation. By using three features of the CATME system (i.e., Team-Maker, CATME Peer Evaluation, and Ratter Calibration), business student data were collected and analysed to document their teamwork skill development for accreditation reviews (i.e., accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International) (Loughry, Ohland, & Woehr, 2014). In this study, results showed that a large number of specific course-learning goals can be achieved, such as students have the opportunities to work collaboratively, students actively participate in group learning experiences, and so on. However, research by Hastie, Fahy, and Parratt (2014) examining the CATME system identified three key limitations: (1) the assessment process is controlled through the CATME website, and thus, the tool cannot be altered in any way; (2) the items are ill-defined, impeding students’ understanding of expectations; and (3) the ambiguous definitions may reduce validity by complicating interpretation.
As suggested by the literature, there are many useful rubrics and questionnaires for teamwork assessment, but we must be careful about our choice of assessment tools. Until now, it is still unclear which one is the most appropriate to standardise the evaluation of teamwork in everyday practice (Gardner & Hull, 2019). The lack of standardisation makes it difficult to compare the effectiveness of different teamwork assessment tools. Hence, it might be beneficial to choose the one(s) related to one’s discipline/field in order to ensure reliability and validity.
Other Examples of Teamwork Assessment at Hong Kong Universities
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