**This page is from an old version of CSUN's Teaching Toolkit. Find an updated version on the current Teaching Toolkit on Canvas.**
Designing Effective Teams
Ever heard students complain about a group project in your class, either because a peer didn't give the assignment a reasonable effort or they just dislike groupwork in general? Ever wonder how to make group work feel more like teamwork -- something enjoyable for students and invaluable to their learning experience? View this slideshow presentation on designing effective teams, created (through teamwork!) by Maria Fernandez from the Tseng Distance Learning and Faculty Development:
Additional Resources on Designing Teams
Dive deeper into the strategies described in the presentation above and the research behind them:
- Articles on student groups, inclusivity, and collaborative learning
- Handouts and worksheets with tips and tools for teamwork
Handling Student Group Conflict
Sometimes despite our best designs and intentions, conflict still arises in our student teams. Let's examine some causes and potential solutions to student-group conflict:
What Causes Group Conflict Among Students?
The most common problems for students using group work in the classroom are an absence of leadership and coordination, an inability to communicate effectively, difficulty defining and assigning tasks, trouble maintaining equal participation, and frustration with setting and achieving group goals. Instructors have expressed frustration with dividing students into groups, and dealing with student conflicts or disruptive group members.
The most common causes of conflict within groups are:
• Faulty communication: criticism is given inappropriately, and group members’ feelings are hurt and they feel devalued
• Attribution errors: members make errors in determining the causes of the behavior of other members. This can occur, for example, when one member doesn’t complete his or her work and the other members jump to the conclusion that the reason for this was nothing more than irresponsibility. Maybe there was a good reason why that one member fell behind.
• Mistrust: members do not trust each other due to poor communication, faulty attributions, or someone’s lack of follow through on obligations
• Grudges: members hold grudges when they feel they have been treated unfairly, when criticism has been given inappropriately, when there have been faulty attributions, or for other reasons; people become angry with each other and they sometimes nurse their anger and remain hostile rather than working through and resolving their anger and moving on.
• Personality clashes: this can occur when groups are put together randomly in particular. The styles of working differ with each member and in some cases, there may be a lack of fit among the members” (Hadad & Reed, p. 267).
How Can I Handle Group Conflict?
“Conflict in a group doesn’t have to mean that the group cannot function. In fact, if the conflict is handled well, it may actually help the group to function. People can grow and learn from conflict, especially if it can be resolved in a way that makes the group a winner, not in a way that makes one individual the loser. If the resolution involves all members of the group, regarding the conflict as a group problem, rather than as one person’s problem, the group cohesiveness may even be increased. Group conflicts should be dealt with because they can become destructive and divide the group” (Hadad & Reed, p. 268).
Here are some conflict resolution methods that you can present to your students when dealing
with group conflict:
1. Deal with each conflict as it arises. Do not try to ignore it, hoping it will go away—it
will probably fester and become worse if not dealt with. Let’s use the example of one
person in a group working at a very slow pace that is holding up the work of other group
2. Present the conflict as evidence that people are involved and excited about their work, and that they are showing a passionate commitment to what they are doing. This may involve a little situational reconstruction to enable everyone to view what has been a negative situation as an opportunity for positive outcomes. For example, note that while the group may be frustrated with one member’s slow work, the frustration reflects the enthusiasm of the group and the slowness may indicated the painstaking effort and care of the slow group member.
3. Confront the issue as a problem to be solved. Focus on working together to solve the problem. In the example noted above, the issue would be how to enable the slow worker to be faster, providing what the rest of the group needs without losing the care that he or she has been taking
4. Do not engage in blaming or character assassination. In the above example, blaming the slow worker or calling the slow worker derogatory names is strictly prohibited.
5. Be open-minded and fair, listening to all sides of the issue. Why does the slow worker say he or she is slow?
6. Insist on criticism being given appropriately and constructively. Explain the problems that slowness has been causing and how it is making the group members feel.
7. Make sure everyone in the group understands all sides of the issue by having them repeat or write down what they believe the arguments to be. Then check to make sure that everyone is correct in their understanding. Does the slow worker realize why the group is having problems with his or her slowness? Does the group understand why the slow worker is taking so much time?
8. Brainstorm to find solutions or compromises. Perhaps the slow worker’s job is actually bigger than it seems and could be broken into sub-parts with another member helping. Perhaps the slow worker could filter parts of his or her work to the group as each part is ready, rather than waiting for the entire task to be done (Hadad & Reed, 2007, p. 270).
Being Prepared for Group Conflict
Be prepared for group conflict management by discovering your conflict style with your class.
A Conflict Style Inventory or Assessment. There are numerous examples such as:
1. A reputable and empirically tested instrument is the Thomas Kilmann Instrument (TKI), a forced choice assessment under $20.
1) Style Matters by Kraybill is another instrument (under $10) claims to be culturally sensitive
2) Conversations about the differences can be found online too. If you google free conflict style assessments, free options appear however, the validity/reliability of the results may be shaky. But this could serve as a teachable moment to discuss practicing critical information literacy and research methodology.
Here are several assignment options:
1. Discover your Conflict Style: simply ask students to complete a conflict styles assessment and send their results to you.
2. Conflict Style Reflection Paper: take it further by asking students to write a 1-2 page reflection paper. Prompts might include: the results, reactions, agree/disagree, and/or to provide a past conflict example demonstrating how they used that particular conflict style.
3. Share Results with Group Members: create a group assignment asking groups to meet, share the results (if they feel comfortable of course), and find similarities and differences.
4. Group Contract: to extend #3, ask each group to generate a group contract which details a specific response plan if conflicts do arise while completing the project. Ask groups to demonstrate how they used the conflict styles results to create the contract.
5. Analyze Case Studies: in groups, provide hypothetical conflict case studies and ask the group to generate how the different conflict styles might respond. Ask how their group could respond so conflict doesn’t escalate.
Tips for implementing:
• Start small if this is your first time integrating this topic into your class.
• Find ways to embed the language of the conflict styles throughout the semester in your curriculum; this can be a humorous way to thread this content into any subject you teach. Conflict occurs in every class, every department, every discipline, and every career; help students see the benefits of handling conflict.