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Building Effective Teams and Partnerships


The Leaders Fellowship is an excellent opportunity to cultivate foundational collaboration skills within your teams. Effective teams will enhance your projects creativity, learning, and trust while also promoting conflict resolution skills, community ownership and healthy risk-taking [1]. The ability to work effectively with a group or team is essential to any workplace and is often a top quality that hiring managers look for.  

Choosing The Right People 

One of the best ways to create an effective team is to choose effective and diverse members. These are often people who display diverse traits of competence, character, courage, and of course, collaboration and who [2]. In other words: people who know what they’re doing, follow through on their commitments, and are eager to take on challenges in a team setting tend to perform well with others.  

In some settings this screening process won’t be within your control (e.g. if you’re applying for a job, it’s the hiring manager’s responsibility to select candidates who will fit in well at the company). In those cases, interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence [hyperlink to this module] are key to finding ways to work with others with conflicting personalities or work styles.  

 High-performing teams are often those with a diverse range of skills, knowledge and perspectives [3]. When you bring your team together, one of the first tasks you should do is identify each members own strengths and weaknesses. Be sure to be very honest at this stage, as it will allow you to leverage each member’s skills and talents. Your strengths and weaknesses can be broad (e.g. creativity) but it’s most helpful to go into specifics (e.g public speaking, Microsoft Office). When identifying your team members’ weaknesses remember that the purpose is not to devalue someone’s contributions, but to use your teammates abilities in a way that benefits everyone. The next step is to identify areas that each member would like to work on or practice. This allows members to improve and grow their skills with the support of the team.  

Working With Cultural Diversity 

 Diversity in teams is beneficial for many reasons, such as including multiple perspectives, and producing culturally-sensitive results; however they can also be challenging. Managing diverse teams may require addressing cultural biases, language barriers, ethnocentrism, and overall lack of awareness of cultural differences. One of the first things to do is acknowledge the cultural diversity and discuss it openly [5]. Gaining an understanding of your team’s backgrounds will provide a starting point to move forward collaboratively and empathetically. The Geert Hofstede Model is internationally recognized for guiding an understanding of cultural differences  

 Another important consideration is that people from different cultural backgrounds often have different communication styles or norms. Some cultures interpret body language such as eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice or physical contact differently [4].  Remember to consider these aspects before making any judgements about your teammates. For example, in some cultures excessive eye contact is considered rude; therefore you shouldn’t interpret a lack of eye contact as a sign that this person isn’t open to communication. This will be discussed in our Community Engagement unit with more detail. 

Create The Right Environment  

 The right working environment is the next ingredient to an effective team. This includes processes such as your team’s communication, task-management, and evaluation. 

Trust between members of your team is critical to productivity and accountability. Your teammates should be able to rely on one another throughout your project and know that commitments by individual members will be completed. That said, open communication and honesty are essential to creating a supportive context; if a member of your team needs support or is unable to complete their assigned tasks, this should be addressed with the group as soon as possible and in a non-threatening way. This will help you avoid situations where tasks are incomplete on their due dates because someone on your team didn’t communicate their progress.  

 Here are some tips to encourage stronger collaboration within teams [6]:  

1. Set Goals and Identify Shared Values: To mobilize your team to work together, you need to have a common sense of direction [3]. Setting goals that are challenging, but still manageable, will orient your team and engage members in the tasks ahead. These goals will be most effective if there are consequences for incompletion; accountability will be improved if there is a reward (or punishment) for the outcome. Shared values are the core beliefs held by your team members that can guide their behaviour and decision-making. Have a brainstorming sessions to list the values of your team members and come up with ways that they can be applied in your work. Ask questions such as [7]: 

  • What does this value mean to us? 
  • What does it look like in action? 
  • How might it be misinterpreted? 
  • How will we evaluate adherence to it? 
  • How will it change our relationships or our interactions?  

 2. Focus on Discussion and Consensus: Dividing tasks among group members is an efficient way to get things done, but it’s important to ensure that all members have the same understanding of what to accomplish and how. Having time for open discussion to share ideas and perspectives, and then coming up with solutions that everyone agrees on, is a great way to create effective solutions and enhance social skills and critical thinking. 

 3. Minimize Opportunities for Free Riding: A major pitfall of group work is when one or more members fail to do their share of the work. Having meaningful roles and assigning specific tasks encourages individual accountability in your team projects. It’s also harder for individuals to free ride in smaller groups (4-5 people) than it is in larger ones; if you have a large group, try breaking into smaller teams within the group.  

4. Take Advantage of Productivity Technology: Using applications such as Slack, Asana, Wrike, Basecamp and/or Google Drive can streamline your team’s collaboration and communication. Be sure to select your strategy and define your organization as a team; everyone should know what medium to use  to contact someone (e.g. via email, Slack, text, WhatsApp) and where to put important information.

Creating a Brave Space for Teamwork 

Creating brave space is a key part in creating equitable work environments, mechanisms, and practices. Ensuring that your team is operating in a brave space is an important step in creating trusting relationships where all members can bring their authentic selves to the work. 

 ‘Brave space’ is in response to the concept of ‘safe spaces.’ The term safe space has been used in various contexts in higher education—from movement-building, to academic theory, to student support services, as well as in the classroom. Although the origin of the term remains unclear, its many uses have ultimately centered on increasing the safety and visibility of marginalized or oppressed community members. While the focus of the current discussion on college campuses has been on safe spaces, the history behind the term demonstrates that it is used to describe different types of safety. Therefore another term—brave space—is introduced to draw attention to the differences and to bring clarity to the conversation.1 

The term brave space was first popularized by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens (2013) in chapter eight—“From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces”—of their book The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections From Social Justice Educators. In it, a brave space within a classroom or workplace environment contains five main elements: 

  • “Controversy with civility,” where varying opinions are accepted 
  • “Owning intentions and impacts,” in which students/co-workers acknowledge and discuss instances where a dialogue has affected the emotional well-being of another person  
  • “Challenge by choice,” where students/co-workers have an option to step in and out of challenging conversations  
  • “Respect,” where students/co-workers show respect for one another’s basic personhood  
  • “No attacks,” where students/co-workers agree not to intentionally inflict harm on one another 

Consider how you will create brave space amongst your team. A good approach is to review this definition of what a brave space is, and to then have all members share what they uniquely need for a brave space. 

Example: “I have a chronic pain disability, and so my energy peaks early in the day and it becomes hard to concentrate. I need the team to honour any break times we agree upon, and to schedule shorter meetings over fewer but longer meetings.” 

Conflict Resolution  

Conflict in a group dynamic is inevitable and shouldn’t be avoided; unresolved conflict can harm productivity, creativity, and cooperation and collaboration. Recognizing and understanding conflict so as to come up with working solutions is essential and a valuable skill to have.   

 Conflict in a work setting is often a result of opposing positions, competitive tension, power struggle, ego, or pride; however, the root of conflict is often poor communication or emotional control [8]. When dealing with conflict, remember to avoid the fundamental attribution error, and extend compassion and empathy to your team members. Remember, you’re all working towards the same goal(s). 

 1. Define What’s Acceptable: Have a discussion with your team about what kind of behaviour is and is not acceptable to avoid conflict from arising in the first place. Also define how conflict will be addressed when it should arise, such as who to talk to first and how people will be held responsible.  

2. Address Conflict As Soon As You See It: Just as you would extinguish a candle to prevent a fire, if you notice places in which conflict is likely to arise, address them sooner rather than later. Conflict severity can be reduced if it’s dealt with quickly. On the other hand, avoid raising conflict for the sake of it.  

3. Try to Understand Where People Are Coming From: Approach solutions in a way that offers opportunities for members to achieve their goals. If you consider what each member can gain from the solution, conflict can act as a valuable teaching and/or learning opportunity and can enhance team cohesion.  


Ethnocentrism: evaluation of other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture  

Free Riding: A benefit obtained at another’s expense or without the usual cost or effort; in the case of teamwork, when a group’s member(s) fail to complete their share of the work, which then falls on other members 

Fundamental Attribution Error: the tendency for people to under-emphasize situational explanations for an individual’s behaviour while over-emphasizing dispositional and personality-based explanations; attributing cause to the person instead of their given situation