Teamwork Skills: Being an Effective Group Member

For groups to function effectively, it's important for students to think critically about the climate within their group and the process by which they accomplish their tasks. Although students can gain many of the skills described below through ad hoc interactions, instructors play a key role in making them explicit protocols.

To hone these skills, students need opportunities to practice and to receive regular feedback. Consider sharing the information below with your students, structure activities for them, and incorporate three components of feedback into your plan: instructor comments (oral and/or written); reflective group discussions and/or peer assessment; and self-reflection (see the reflection prompts in Appendix A for ideas). 

Communication skills 

To function successfully in a group, students need to be able to communicate clearly on intellectual and emotional levels. Effective communicators should be able to: 

  • Explain their own ideas; 
  • Express their feelings in an open but non-threatening way; 
  • Listen carefully to others; 
  • Ask questions to clarify others’ ideas and emotions; 
  • Sense how others feel based on their nonverbal communication (e.g., facial expressions, tone of voice, diminished participation);
  • Initiate conversations about the group climate or process if they sense tensions brewing; 
  • Reflect on their group's activities and interactions and encourage other group members to do so. 

Regular open communication, in which group members share their thoughts, ideas, and feelings, is key for successful group work. Unspoken assumptions and issues can be harmful to productive group functioning. Students’ ability to communicate openly with one another can help foster a healthy group climate and process. 

Skills for a healthy group climate 

To work together successfully, group members must demonstrate a sense of cohesion. Cohesion emerges as group members: 

  • Get to know one another, particularly those with different interests and backgrounds. They are open to innovative ideas and diverse viewpoints. They also listen to others and elicit their ideas. They know how to balance the need for cohesion within a group with the need for individual expression. 
  • Trust one another enough to share their own ideas and feelings. A sense of mutual trust develops only to the extent that everyone is willing to self-disclose and be honest yet respectful. Trust also grows as group members demonstrate personal accountability for the tasks they have been assigned. 
  • Demonstrate support for one another as they accomplish their goals. They cheer on the group and support members individually. They view one another not as competitors but as collaborators: everyone in the group can and should have a role by which they contribute.
  • Communicate their opinions in a way that respects others, focusing on “What can we learn?” rather than “Who is to blame?” 

As an instructor, you can use several strategies to encourage students to develop a healthy group climate: 

  • Randomize group membership to increase the chances of students encountering peers with diverse backgrounds and interests. 
  • Design icebreaker activities that promote awareness and appreciation of inherent differences within a group. 
  • Walk students through effective strategies for identifying and overcoming group conflict.  
  • Encourage students to participate actively and pose questions to their peers. To encourage listening skills and ensure that everyone in the group speaks, try the “circle of voices” exercise. See the CTE Teaching Tip: Group Work in the Classroom: Types of Small Groups
  • Devote class time to help students reflect on their group dynamic and overall functioning. You can provide them with prompt questions to consider and/or facilitate a conversation driven by student insights, questions, and concerns. 

Skills for an effective group process 

In addition to knowing how to develop a healthy group climate, students need to exercise key skills to contribute to an effective group process. This process emerges when students: 

  • Agree on what needs to be done and by whom. Each student then determines what they need to do and takes responsibility to complete the task(s). They can be held accountable for their tasks, and they hold others accountable for theirs. 
  • Give and receive feedback about group ideas. Giving constructive feedback requires focusing on ideas and behaviours instead of individuals and offering suggestions for improvement. Receiving feedback requires the ability to listen well, ask for clarification if the comment is unclear, and being open to change and to other ideas. 
  • Help the group to develop and use central strategies to move toward their group goals. As such, they can facilitate group decision making and manage group conflict in a productive way, rather than approaching the instructor for guidance as the first step.  
  • Know how to plan and manage a task, how to manage their time, and how to run a meeting. For example, they ensure meeting goals are set, an agenda is created and followed, and everyone can participate. They stay focused on the task and help others to do so, too. 
  • Know which roles can be filled within a group (e.g., facilitator, idea-generator, summarizer, evaluator, mediator, encourager, recorder) and are aware of which role(s) they and others are best suited for. They are also willing to rotate roles to maximize their own and others’ group learning experience. 

As an instructor, use some of these strategies to help students develop an effective process within their groups: 

  • Design the group task so that the students must rely on one another to produce their best work. Group members will be more motivated and committed to working together if they are given a group mark. If you choose to evaluate in this way, be sure to make your expectations extremely clear. See the CTE Teaching Tip: Methods for Assessing Group Work for additional ideas. 
  • Invite students to develop a group contract in which they articulate ground rules and group goals. See the CTE Teaching Tip Making Group Contracts for details. Be sure that groups discuss how they will respond to various scenarios such as absent or late group members and those who do not complete their assigned tasks. 
  • Distribute a list of decision-making methods and strategies for conflict resolution and facilitate a conversation with students about these resources in class. The CTE Teaching Tip: Group Decision Making is a good place to start. You may also want to offer yourself as an impartial arbitrator in emergency situations but encourage students to work out problems among themselves. 
  • Provide students with guidelines for running a meeting, such as setting and following an agenda, specifying time limits, and monitoring progress on the agenda. Consult CTE Teaching Tip: Meeting Strategies to Help Prepare Students for Group Work for additional suggestions. 
  • Teach students effective methods for giving and receiving feedback and explain the purpose of feedback in your course. For sample methods, see CTE Teaching Tip: Receiving and Giving Effective Feedback. Create an assignment that involves them giving feedback to group members and make it part of their final grade. 
  • Help students recognize and make the most of their own and one another’s preferred roles. Outline with them a list of team roles (see the CTE Teaching Tip: Group Roles for examples), have them determine which role(s) suits them best, and give them time to discuss how their role(s) will complement those of other group members. Asking students to rotate their roles helps them to expand their skillset. 

Appendix A: Encouraging self-awareness and reflection in group work 

One of the most important things you can do as an instructor is to have students reflect regularly on their group experiences. Their self-reflection will reinforce and further develop critical teamwork skills. Based on your objectives for the group project, create a set of prompts using the questions below. Have students use these prompts to journal about their reactions to group climate and process. The journals encourage self-reflection and can help students see teamwork issues in new ways and create ideas for resolution. They can also provide a good basis from which students can choose comments to share with their group members in debriefing sessions.

If students submit their journals periodically throughout the term, give them feedback orally or in writing, and to the extent appropriate, discuss any trends that you have identified through observation or in the journals (remember to reassure students that other groups may be facing similar challenges). Also, requiring all students to submit a final reflective report after the group project can help them to see the value of the teamwork expertise they have developed through practice. 


  • What have you enjoyed the most/the least about getting to know your group members? 
  • How is your attitude towards your group members demonstrated in how you function within the group? 
  • How do you demonstrate trust and openness towards the other members and their ideas? 
  • How much do you feel you can rely on your group members to complete the required task(s)? 
  • How do you make sure that group members feel supported, encouraged, and appreciated for their work? 
  • How does the team ensure that all voices are heard? 
  • Do you participate willingly in discussions? If not, why not? 
  • Do others appear to understand your ideas? If not, why not? 
  • What do you do if another person’s ideas are unclear? 
  • What do you focus on when others speak? How could you improve your listening skills? 
  • How do you respond to others’ ideas? How do they respond to yours? What could be improved? 


  • What are your group’s ground rules and goals? What changes to these rules and goals might improve the functioning of your group? 
  • How is everyone encouraged to stay accountable for the tasks they have been assigned? 
  • To what extent do you and others follow the feedback methods laid out in class? How could you and your group members improve the way you give and receive feedback? 
  • To what extent does your group reflect on how well its goals are being achieved? How would more (or less) discussion about goals help or hinder your group’s functioning? 
  • How are decisions made in your group? Who is involved and in which ways? What has been effective about the processes you have used? How could your decision-making processes be improved? 
  • What happens if a group member is unhappy or uncomfortable with a decision made by the group? 
  • What conflicts have arisen within your group? How (if at all) have the conflicts been resolved? What role do you play in resolving these conflicts? What could you (or others) do to improve your group’s ability to deal productively with conflict? 
  • How do your meetings typically proceed? What do you accomplish and in how much time? What is effective about your group functioning during meetings? What changes would improve your meetings? 
  • Who has emerged as the leader in your group? Which other roles do you see team members playing? Which role(s) do you play? Which role do you prefer and why? 


If you would like support applying these tips to your own teaching, CTE staff members are here to help. View the CTE Support page to find the most relevant staff member to contact. 


  • Bosworth, K. (1994). Developing Collaborative Skills in College Students. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 59. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. pp. 25-31. 
  • Breslow, L. (1998). Teaching Teamwork Skills, Part 2. Teach Talk, X, 5.  
  • Burke, A. (2011). Group work: How to use groups effectively. The Journal of Effective Teaching, 11(2), 87-95. 
  • Hills, H. (2001). Team-Based Learning. Burlington, VT: Gower. 
  • Lang, J. M. (2022, June 17). Why students hate group projects (and how to change that). The Chronicle of Higher Education.  
  • Shier, M. (2020). Student Success. Victoria, BC: BCcampus. Retrieved from  


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