Learning Blast: Work in Teams

Help youth develop the skills they need to work as part of a team.

Engineering teams collaborate and communicate as they bring different knowledge and perspectives together to solve a problem.

Teamwork skills are highly valued in engineering. Generating successful solutions to problems is strengthened by a group effort that involves many different people and ideas. The expertise of a variety of people—clients, community members, and others with technical, aesthetic, safety or political knowledge is often called upon.

“Different perspectives support better innovation — the core of the engineering way of life. When individuals within an engineering team all look the same, act the same, and come from the same backgrounds, end users may not get the best solution.”

— Ronit Polak

Developing the best solutions often requires collaboration by engineers from several fields—for example, mechanical, electrical, materials, and acoustical engineers might all collaborate to design a hearing aid. Assembling teams with members who bring diverse experience, approaches, and knowledge can yield robust and innovative solutions.

Youth need experience and scaffolds to learn to work effectively in teams. By working in teams during engineering activities, youth develop their abilities to consider other people’s perspectives, communicate, compromise, and select the most promising ideas. Educators can foster these traits by highlighting how teams that generate a diversity of ideas have more possibilities to explore and more potential for one to be successful.

As you watch the video, think about this:

  • How is working in teams presented to the youth?
  • What strategies or questions do facilitators use to help youth think about working together?

Watch the video:

Share what you noticed:

  • What did you notice in the video?
  • How could you structure engineering experiences to make it easier for youth to collaborate in teams?
  • How can youth apply this practice in other areas of their life?  Where else do they have to work with others?

What we know:

The creation of engineering products and knowledge is a social endeavor—people need to work together and communicate productively in groups. Team members share, plan, critique, and combine ideas and feedback. This often requires negotiating to reach consensus. Thus, learning how to interact both within a group and between groups is an important engineering skill.

Educators should also strive to create learning environments in which youth feel part of a cooperative engineering community – a community where they are expected to work together and share their designs and knowledge. Environments that celebrate collaboration are generally more inclusive.

Learners benefit from scaffolds that help them develop into productive team members. These might include discussions of norms for groupwork, instructional strategies that allow (or require) everyone to contribute, and sentence frames or starters that help youth provide constructive feedback to each other. Such scaffolds are particularly productive for youth who are new to working together in teams.

One form of scaffolding for collaboration is to assign roles for each team member. It is important that roles are authentic and let everyone contribute to the group.  Assigned roles should not keep youth from contributing their talents to their team’s efforts.

What you know:

Becoming a good team member, like becoming a good engineer, takes practice. As youth recognize the benefits of working in a team and develop strategies to contribute as a productive team member, they will not only engineer better solutions but also develop an important skill to use in their school and work experiences.

Key take-away:

Engineers collaborate to bring diverse knowledge and perspectives together to solve complex problems. Communicating, especially listening to others, and negotiating effectively are all important skills for teamwork.


  • What strategies could you use to scaffold teamwork in engineering learning experiences?
  • What can you do to help youth learn to work in diverse teams and appreciate the contributions of others?


Developed in collaboration with Christine M. Cunningham. These practices are also more fully described in educational research articles (Cunningham, 2018; Cunningham & Kelly, 2017).