Teamwork is the ability to be both an individual contributor and a supportive member of a group. Not easy for little ones, but never too early to start learning how. Although the notion of teamwork seems rather self explanatory, the combination of skills that are required for kids to effectively work on a team is rather complex. People can work effectively in a group when they have a sense of their own strengths and needs, the ability to understand the needs and motivations of others, the ability to agree and focus on a common goal, and the capacity to adjust their personal needs for the good of the group. Needless to say, young kids are too young to master these skills, but they can make tremendous progress if we give them genuine experience with teamwork and help them develop the foundations that underlie this more complex set of skills.
On a most basic level, kids start to build teamwork skills as they learn to negotiate and share limited resources. Anyone who has kids know that these skills do not come naturally, but are developed with age and practice. Kids who have experience sharing and working in groups without the dominant management of parent or authority figure (e.g. the good old pick-up game of kick-the-can that was managed only by the kids in the neighborhood) get much more opportunity to develop the self awareness and skills needed for effective collaboration. The more chances we give kids to feel the pleasure in sharing and giving, the more quickly they become effective at sharing. In addition, when we model how to set a goal and allow kids to practice working towards that goal, we model the behavior they will eventually adopt as their won. Finally, when they experience success as a member of a team, they develop a lasting sense of the power of teamwork and the motivation to start to value a team over themselves.
Why does it matter?
Collaboration makes the cut on nearly every list of top 21st-century skills—and it has become not just a goal but a requirement for most jobs. Technology increasingly enables people to work together with people who differ by geography, culture and mindset, and businesses and institutions worldwide expect employees to work effectively in both face-to-face and in virtual teams. Those who collaborate effectively will not only be effective workers but will be poised to help find solutions to the increasingly complicated challenges this young generation will face.
Further, in most schools from elementary level up, kids get more out of the curriculum if they know how to work well in groups, and this trend of increased peer-to peer-teaching and learning is only gaining ground in older school years. Research even shows that how well young children solve simple problems in groups predicts how they will transition to and fare in formal schooling.