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The human touch: teaching teamwork in the classroom

With the advent of Artificial Intelligence or AI, the future of work is rapidly changing, placing social skills and the capacity to develop and maintain relationships at the top of the agenda for schools.

“The abilities to read social situations and develop productive relationships are, for the foreseeable future, uniquely human skills, and will become increasingly important and valuable in an automation economy.”[1]

Getting Smart’s 2017 paper emphasises the importance of Social and Emotional Learning (which includes developing self- and social awareness, and relationship and teamworking skills) and claims that these skills are now even more important than traditional measures of academic success, given the seismic shift from hard to soft skills.

What’s more, the relationship between AI and teamwork is a reciprocal one, with AI enabling teams to adapt and communicate more effectively, work more efficiently and solve bigger problems.

However, in schools, teamworking skills are often taught incidentally to other lessons or squashed into a short timeframe that belies the importance of the subject. We assume that students already know intuitively how to work in teams.

In his article, Teaching Students How to Work Together[2], Jamie Back explains his approach to developing his students’ teamworking skills.

Creating a list of expectations

Back asked his students about their likes and dislikes when working in teams and used their collated results as the basis for a list of expectations for successful groupwork. This focused the students’ attention on desirable behavioural contributions and meant that when ground-rules were established (such as appointing a representative to approach the teacher on behalf of the group), these were more likely to be respected and understood.

Allocating students to particular roles in groupwork

Students were placed in small teams (of around four) and given specific roles to fulfil. For example, one team member was responsible for getting supplies for the team, while another was in charge of the final product. The allocation of specific roles gave students more ownership of the project and enhanced individual and collective responsibility and autonomy.

Whilst Back focused on functional roles, Belbin helps students to understand their behavioural contributions within a team, enhancing self-confidence and -awareness, and encouraging students to develop their communication and interpersonal skills as they move between roles.

For more information on helping students identify their strengths and work more effectively in teams, please get in touch with the Belbin GetSet team on

By Victoria Bird

January 2019



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