Teamwork Tips

I’ve stolen the below from Dave Mudgett. Just wanted to put these online here until I can revise and make them my own.

These are some hints for helping you and your team work together. If you have more hints, please share them with me.

  • Trade emails, phone numbers, and other contact details when you first meet.

  • If your whole team can’t always meet, that’s OK. If you can get 3 out of 4 of your team members, then do that. If you cannot get 3, do 2 several times (although this is not ideal).

  • Meet by phone or email, if necessary. Things will sometimes go more slowly, but not always. It will certainly allow you to meet more easily because you don’t have to travel. Ditto for meeting via an instant messenger program or chat room.

  • Try to arrange meeting times in person. Working via phone or email illustrates the complexity of doing things serially versus doing things in parallel. Via email, everyone has to work through their schedule serially. In person, you can all check your schedules at once.

  • Use times you already meet, for example, after a joint class, to arrange a time to meet. You can also use free, easy scheduling tools like to try to find a time that works for everybody.

  • Set up a fixed meeting time every week. This helps people attend more regularly, and helps make scheduling easier. As a rule of thumb, if this weekly meeting schedule works half the time, it’s worthwhile. If much less, it doesn’t mean anything and gets ignored.

  • If you plan meetings far enough ahead, even busy people will have room on their schedule. Furthermore, in this course, you have a responsibility to make time in your busy schedule. If you’re not getting cooperation from one or more members, you have a responsibility to email the TA or instructor for assistance. More on this later.

  • If necessary, meet early, or meet late. For example, meeting breakfasts, or a late night drink or snack. Meeting on- or off-campus at a coffee shop can work if you stay focused on work. Too much food is not a meeting. But a small snack or coffee can help.

  • Make sure that there are tables where you meet. Otherwise you cannot spread out your papers and books.

  • Have an agenda for each meeting, and have someone run each meeting. We strongly recommend that you select a team leader, at least for the duration of any project. We also suggest that you rotate this leadership responsibility around for the different projects.

  • At the end of any team meeting, whether in person, by email, or phone, each member’s responsibilities and time schedule for meeting that responsibility should be clear. You should have one person (secretary, scribe) take responsibility for keeping track of what was done, what is agreed to for the next meeting, and the track record of performance in these responsibilities. The secretary should write down and distribute this after each significant meeting. A single email to each team member is a simple and effective way to do this, and is a good way to make certain everyone is on the same page.

  • If something is not clear to you, immediately use phone, email, or IM to proactively question other members. If you see a problem, proactively communicate with the other team members. Communication and feedback is essential to good teamwork, particularly when the team is distributed, i.e., members primarily work independently.

  • Finally, if you have a team member who is not contributing or have another serious team problem, please email the TA or instructor early. DO NOT WAIT until it impacts your project. Technically, we will refuse to “fire” a member during the last 3 days of a project. If you wait until the last 3 days to start working on a project and suddenly discover that you have a problem with a team member, you will have to live with it.

How to “Fire” a Team Member for Non-Performance

  1. You cannot do this entirely by yourself. You must have instructor approval to fire any team member – any team member must have due process. In general, I will not give this approval in the last week of a project, except in exceptional circumstances. I will never give this approval during the last 3 days of a project. Get started on projects early, and figure out quickly if you have any team problems. Let me know about problems early.

  2. To initiate a request to fire a team member, email the instructor with a list of times when the whole team can meet together. The instructor will schedule a mandatory team meeting to try to reconcile any problems.

  • If the instructor agrees, during this face-to-face meeting, that reasonable agreement cannot be made between allegedly non-performing member(s) and the rest of the team, permission to fire will be given. In this case, any non-performing members must either find another team willing to work with them, or work by themselves. The instructor reserves the right to refuse any request to create teams larger than 4 students.

  • But, if the instructor finds that the allegedly non-performing member is willing to make reasonable agreements to do an appropriate share of the team’s work, and is also willing to submit to having this performance formally evaluated in 1-2 weeks, then permission to fire will not be given.

    1. If a team request to fire is denied, and the team comes back within 1-2 weeks to repeat the request, then each side must email the instructor a 1-page written argument why the member should or should not be fired. In this request, each side needs to present a summary of the team responsibilities agreed to and a performance with respect to them. You should also attach any email correspondence about this during the “trial period”. The instructor will then decide whether permission to fire is given.

Let me be clear. It is the responsibility of each team member to accept and carry out a fair share of the team’s work. But it is also the responsibility of the team to fairly divide the work, clearly communicate – in writing if necessary – what is expected of each team member, and fairly assess whether or not tasks were reasonably carried out. If the team fails to make these responsibilities clear or doesn’t fairly assess performance on these responsibilities, I will not fire a team member for non-performance. This is why I so strongly suggest naming a team leader and team secretary for each project, and use this structure to communicate clearly in writing.