Setting the Structure for Teamwork

Establishing norms for teamwork promotes a cohesive team identity and fosters effective group work, which in turn creates optimum conditions for learning.

Setting norms for teamwork can be done many ways. Laura Greenlee Karp at Voyageur Outward Bound School (VOBS) says of their process:

Quote markIt’s literally sitting down and pulling out a piece of paper and asking, “What is important to our group? Who do we want to be? What are our non-negotiables?” They’ll talk about respecting other people and respecting themselves. Sometimes there will be one that’s really important to the kids that the instructors have never thought of. Then we write it all down and it allows students to set the tone for every meeting. It’s something the instructors can fall back on because we’ve all agreed as a group that this is who we want to be and how we want to do it.

By establishing the norms for group work early on, helping youth take ownership of these norms, and reinforcing them as needed, youth build a sense of shared accountability and have a clear structure they can count on. Sometimes norms are created and reinforced by rituals. The norms and rituals create a code that help youth learn how to contribute as members of high-functioning groups, including how to navigate inevitable conflicts and disagreements.

Sometimes language is used as a type of ritual or signal for the group to reset according to the norms and agreements that they have made. In VOBS, the youth have another acronym tool, PROPS. Karp describes it as:

Quote markWe were having a rough time with people talking over each other. So we gave the kids a tool called PROPS: People Respecting Other People Speaking. When we were standing in a circle and people would talk [out of turn], the instructors would be quiet and other students would just say, “PROPS,” and that was the cue for the students to be quiet and continue to focus.

Further Reading

Join the Discussion

What tools does your program use to ensure everyone is being heard and respected?