By Spencer Chalifour
Like any skill, working effectively in a team requires careful practice, experience, and self-assessment to master. However, unlike other skills, it is often assumed that everyone innately knows how to work in a team. We’ve all had the experience of a teacher or supervisor placing us in teams with other students or employees—who are often complete strangers—and expecting us to “figure out” how to work together.
Georgia Tech’s Effective Team Dynamics Initiative (ETDI) provides students, faculty, and staff with research-driven training and methods to improve how they work in teams. This article offers a brief introduction to ETDI and explores how you can use this initiative to improve your team.
What Are Effective Team Dynamics?
Understanding how to best work in a team is a multi-step process that requires self-reflection and contemplating how you interact with the world around you. Determining effective dynamics can be complex, but ETDI has simplified this process by focusing on the following three questions:
Who Am I?
Before working in a team, you first need to understand what you offer. What makes you unique? What special skills or interests do you have? How do you use your skills and interests to approach projects and problems? Once you have a strong foundation in understanding yourself, you will then be more adept at understanding others.
How Do I Team?
When you work with other people, you should be aware of the ways in which you interact with others. How do you recognize the unique skills and interests of people around you? How can you best understand the diversity of your team? Increasing your awareness of the people you’re working with will enable you to bring your best self to the team.
How Do We Team?
Now that you have a better understanding of yourself, you should get to know the people you’re working with. Consider how every member of your team can work interdependently. How will each contributor mutually rely on the others so that all of you can take advantage of your unique skills and abilities?
Once these three questions are addressed, your team dynamics will be established, and you’ll have a stronger foundation for completing collaborative work.
How Will Understanding Team Dynamics Help Me?
Whether you’re an experienced team leader or a student new to working in groups, everyone can benefit from understanding team dynamics. By better comprehending how a team works, teams can increase engagement among their members and experience much better performance. Studies have shown that greater engagement among employees leads to 41% lower absenteeism, 17% higher productivity, and 21% higher profitability.
At Georgia Tech, understanding ETD is rooted in the Clifton Strengths Analysis. Clifton Strengths, also known as the Gallup Strengths Assessment, was created by Don Clifton based on a simple viewpoint: What would happen if we helped people succeed by examining what they’re best at rather than what their weaknesses are? By focusing on team members’ strengths, Clifton Strengths allows teams to reach higher levels of excellence.
This approach is backed by research. For example, a speed-reading study conducted by the Nebraska School Study Council found that when students were taught speedreading methods, average readers increased their words per minute reading rate by 66%.However, exceptional readers increased their reading rate from around 300 words per minute to 2,900!
The Clifton Strength Assessment measures talents in 34 general areas or “themes.” Participants can develop these talents into individual strengths The assessment also gives team members a common language to identify what makes them unique and discuss how they can work together most effectively.
ETD Success Stories
Many members of the Georgia Tech community have benefitted from taking the strengths finder assessment and applying its findings to their work. For example, undergraduate students have used their strength assessment results to work in online teams more efficiently. Additionally, effective team dynamics have been successfully implemented at the graduate level via the team science curriculum. Utilizing strengths assessment has also benefitted faculty collaboration.
What Resources Does the Effective Team Dynamics Initiative Provide?
The Effective Team Dynamics Initiative at Georgia Tech offers several resources for students (both undergraduate and graduate), faculty, and staff. These resources range from student curricula to sample activities faculty can implement in their teaching.
Student Team Dynamics
There are two main curriculum sets for undergraduate students at Georgia Tech. The First-Year Seminar set includes a series of Gallup strengths finding activities for students followed by an in-class session designed to help students understand their results. This curriculum set aims to develop students’ knowledge and self-awareness of interpersonal skills, often in preparation for a short-term team project.
The Senior Design set also includes a series of Gallup strengths finding activities, two in-class sessions, and team homework activities. These additional elements will assist more advanced students in implementing their strengths assessment findings in more complex team projects.
ETDI also offers a curriculum for graduate students that consists of four modules focused on:
- Increasing innovation and productivity
- Understanding team diversity
- Creating effective communication
- Leveraging and managing conflict.
Effective Dynamics for Faculty and Staff
In addition to student resources, ETDI offers several resources for faculty and staff. The ETD Faculty Tool Kit includes a booklet and set of cards that instructors can use in their classes for a variety of team-building activities. The ETDI website also includes a series of short activities organized by purpose that faculty and staff can implement to assist teams and increase efficiency.
How Do I Get Started Learning Effective Dynamics at Georgia Tech?
There are many ways ETDI can help you recognize your strengths and increase your understanding of how you work best in a team. We’ll also teach you proven strategies to you improve the productivity and effectiveness of your teams. No one should feel like they need to “just figure out” how to create strong teamwork, and ETDI is here to assist you in navigating the skills that go into understanding team dynamics.
Please contact us to set up a workshop where an experienced team dynamics facilitator can assist your course or explain effective dynamics at a departmental or organizational event. You can also email us to learn more about how effective team dynamics can help you take your collaborations to the next level.