The PETS (Proactively Ensuring Team Success) is a multifaceted approach to creating effective, productive and happy student teams and minimising student team dysfunction and poor project outcomes.

The approach was developed in 2007 from an Australian Learning and Teaching Council grant project led by Professor Lydia Kavanah, then Director of First Year Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology (EAIT) at UQ.

Since then, the approach has been successfully rolled out to many programs and courses at UQ.

Download PETS manual (PDF, 1.8MB)

Why do we have team work in our courses?

To enable students to: 

  • Develop effective communication skills
  • Interact effectively with others to achieve a common goal
  • Engage in inter-disciplinary projects
  • Develop Ethical and Social Understanding an appreciation of cultural diversity.

Team projects may:

  • facilitate peer-assisted, cooperative, and collaborative learning
  • enable tasks of greater scale and increased complexity, with the attendant deeper learning to be achieved.

What can go wrong in team work?

Dysfunctional teams are due to:

  • Social loafing

Social loafing can be defined as “the tendency for individuals to reduce their own personal input when performing as part of group” (North, Linley & Hargreaves 2000: 389). Students often find it difficult to report social loafing as the social loafers are their friends or people that they will need to interact with for the remainder of their degree program.

  • Unresolved conflict

The literature suggests that there can be two forms of conflict within a team: task and relational conflicts. While for several years it was thought that task conflict in teams could be productive, and that only relational conflicts were destructive in relation to team performance, some research suggests that both are destructive (De Dreu & Weingart 2003). Thus, the PETS manual provides instructions on team allocation, task definition and team mentoring and monitoring to keep teams on track in terms of both tasks and relationships.

Evidence of dysfunctional teams
Problem Occurrence
Unresolved conflict
  • A student reported that team discussions about what should be included in the final deliverable had broken down and some members had begun to become aggressive.
  • One team member submitted a separate report as she felt that her team members were not listening to her, nor correctly completing requirements.
  • One team member became obsessed with another to the extent that outside counselling was required. 
  • A student gave a team member, who was a good friend, an undeservedly high peer evaluation.
  • A sub-team colluded on an evaluation for a member who they did not agree with.  
Social loafing
  • A randomly allocated group of students lacked a natural leader and performed poorly through low-quality work and missed deadlines.  No responsibility was taken by any member of the group for their poor performance.
  • A student complained about a social loafer after the course was completed. He did not report any concerns when they could have been dealt with.
  • One student complained about social loafing within his team to his parents who then contacted the relevant academic within the department.
  • Many students do not report their poorly performing team mates, as they want to avoid conflict.

How can PETS help?

The PETS process provides a systematic approach to managing student teams which addresses group dysfunction and social loafing, and has the potential to improve both individual and team performance.

It engages academics in:

  1. Preventing poor team performance through the use of:
    • A structured and purposeful process of allocating individuals to groups
    • Explicit student training in group processes and provision of a self-help toolkit
    • Tailoring features of the project task so it can be more effectively managed by teams
    • Tailoring assessment type
    • Assessing individual performance through peer evaluation as both formative and summative assessment
    • Assessing of team performance as a summative assessment criterion, and
    • Communicating of strategies for social loafing.
  2. Diagnosing team dysfunction through:
    • Mandating individual reflection
    • Mandating team reflection
    • Mandating mentor sessions, and
    • Mentor reflection and observation.
  3. Helping cure team dysfunction by:
    • Mandating individual reflection,
    • Mandating team reflection, and
    • Tailoring facilitation of mentor sessions.

Where do I find time to implement PETS?

The PETS process is not a quick-fix.  It requires considerable time to implement and of course, the larger the student cohort, the larger the time input.

However, the increased time input is balanced by the benefits of implementing PETS. Not only do students achieve their learning objectives and gain team work skills, but the number of complaints about dysfunctional teams is reduced.

Choose and brief your teaching team well, and thereby share the workload hopefully enthusiastic and competent teaching staff.

Implementing PETS in five stages

Forms

Forms include:

  • D-1: Individual Structured Reflection
  • D-2: Individual Peer Assessment (Manual Form)
  • D-3: Student Feedback

Download PETS forms (PDF, 517KB)

Author and acknowledgements

Author

Professor Lydia Kavanagh BE (Hons), M.Eng.Sci, PhD, PFHEA
Director of First-Year Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology, The University of Queensland

Acknowledgements

  • For early development: Dr John Harrison (School of Journalism & Communication, UQ)
  • For various trials and development: Dr David Neil (School of Geography Planning & Environmental Management, UQ), and Dr John Cokley (School of Journalism & Communication, UQ)
  • For technical expertise around the original versions of the customisable website, and the peer-evaluation tool (2008-2010): Dr Aneesha Bakharia (UQx)
  • For assistance with moving Working in Teams to Teams101x: the UQx team.