An Evidence-based Approach to Assessing and Developing Teamwork Skills

An Evidence-based Approach to Assessing and Developing Teamwork Skills

Nicole Larson, Thomas O'Neill, Genevieve Hoffart, Marjan Eggermont

Real-world engineering practice requires a strong set of both technical and professional skills. Although graduating students are proficient in technical aspects of their work, they often lack the interpersonal skills required to succeed in today’s modern team-based environments. This gap is likely due to challenges of integrating training and assessment of soft skills (e.g., teamwork and communication) into the conventional classroom.

This paper describes a collaborative project between Psychology and Engineering. The objective of this collaboration is to build teamwork capabilities in engineering students during post-secondary education. This four-year partnership resulted in the development of evidence-based team and individual assessments and participative activities. We offer free access to the tools described in this paper at and encourage engineering educators to adopt them to assess and develop teamwork skills in their students.

Based on an exhaustive review of the teamwork literature, we developed the Team CARE assessment, which provides students with specific information on the “health” of their team by aggregating team members’ responses to survey items. The model encompasses the following four key features of teamwork: Communicate, Adapt, Relate, and Educate. A feedback report is automatically generated once all members respond to the assessment items. The report provides a comprehensive diagnostic of features related to team effectiveness. Typically an accompanying debrief activity is applied in class, which prompts teams to commit to action steps that will improve their team’s functioning. CARE teaches students about important teamwork considerations such as goal progression, role clarity, process conflict, strategy and planning, task conflict, information exchange, trust, and cooperation. Furthermore, we found support for the reliability of each facet level scale imbedded in the assessment.

To complement the CARE model this collaboration created a peer feedback platform. The peer feedback targets individual team members’ skill development. Team members anonymously rate each other on five teamwork competencies we adapted from Ohland et al’s (2012) extensive research. Additionally, the tool is very flexible and allows team members to provide each other with written feedback if the instructor chooses. Introducing students to the behaviors of effective team members, observing and rating members on these behaviors, and receiving personalized feedback on the behaviors allows students to learn how to become a highly effective team member. In this paper we also present student reactions to peer feedback. Our data suggest that students have positive attitudes about the rating process and the feedback received.

Team-based work is often implemented with the assumption that students will instinctively develop teamwork skills through these experiences. Unfortunately, simply participating in team projects does not allow students to develop appropriate teamwork capabilities (Donia et al., 2015). Teamwork that is not properly supported may leave students ill-equipped to succeed in today’s dynamic work environments. Thus, it is our duty as educators to make a difference in students’ future career success by allowing them opportunities to enhance their teamwork skills. Taken together, the research and tools presented in this paper align with CDIO’s vision to integrate learning of professional skills, such as teamwork, into engineering curriculums.

Proceedings of the 12th International CDIO Conference, Turku, Finland, June 12-16 2016

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