Forming a cohesive, high-functioning group that works together effectively toward shared goals can be a powerful experience for youth.

Related Domain

Problem Solving

While teamwork skills include some of the same competencies as empathy-mutual respect, active listening, sensitivity to others’ feelings, and attentiveness to diverse perspectives—it focuses more on forming a cohesive, high-functioning group that works together effectively toward shared goals. Developing these skills can be a powerful experience for youth. As Paul Griffin, Founder and President of The Possibility Project (TPP) put it:

Quote markOnce they feel like they belong, that’s a big deal. They get a thrill out of creating something over a long period of time.

We all know what an effective team looks like: Members trust each other, are collectively invested in shared work and goals, and have shared norms, or an ethos, for how they coordinate their efforts and solve problems that arise. The challenges in youth learning teamwork skills start with helping them create and feel part of a team, or that uncertain process of finding common ground and forming a social contract with people one may not know (or may know and dislike).

And then there is the challenge of balancing the “I” and the “we”: balancing the human needs for autonomy and self-protection (of one’s time, emotional energy, and dignity) with the giving of oneself to the common good. Individuals often differ in what they are able to contribute—ideas, skills, tasks they can do that others can’t do—so learning to navigate fairness can be challenging.

Similar to other SEL skills sets, teens best learn teamwork skills through doing. However, substantial research shows that, left to themselves, certain groups of youth will teach each other deviant rather than constructive group behavior.

In successful programs, staff allow youth to learn from each other, but they ensure that group formation gets off to a good start, often through structured activities.

Staff help youth create and sustain positive group norms for maximum group functioning, and they provide ongoing modeling, coaching, and facilitation of effective group performance.

Key Youth Experiences

Staff Practices

Related Resource

Join the Discussion

How does your program teach positive teamwork skills?

Learn more about the best practices for social and emotional learning.

Download the guide