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Enhancing teamwork skills in students

Teamwork is an essential competence enhancing the employability of graduates. The coaching of teamwork skills before students enter the workplace, falls into the work basket of universities. In our experience, the key challenge for supporting the development of teamwork skills, is the approach chosen when creating a team.


Eva Holmberg

Yrkeshögskolan Novia

Annika Konttinen

lehtori, matkailuliiketoiminta
Senior Lecturer, tourism business
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 21.01.2022

Collaboration is one of the 21st Century skills and one of the key competences for employees to survive and thrive in the world of work in the future. The Gap report of the SUCSESS project also revealed that teamwork is an essential competence enhancing the employability of graduates.

At the same time, however, the society around us is getting more focused on the individual. Generation Z, which makes up most of the current student cohort, expects to get personalised experiences. Even traditionally collectivist Asian cultures are becoming more individualistic.

Moreover, families are smaller and young people have more limited options to learn skills such as compromising and conflict solving at home. This is where universities can come to the rescue and coach the teamwork skills of students before they enter the workplace.

Teamwork as a competence in the workplace

From the employers’ point of view, teamwork skills normally refer to the ability to work harmoniously with colleagues in any kind of situation. Teamwork requires commitment and includes helping all members of a team to achieve common goals.

To be able to do that, employees need to be reliable and responsible as well as efficient at problem solving as a team. It requires skills such as listening, supporting others to achieve more, respecting and trusting others, and possessing conflict management skills.

Preferably, members of a team perceive each other as collaborators rather than competitors. Teams work better if their members can be genuinely happy for the success of others.

Other teamwork skills appreciated in the workplace are related to communication, being able to delegate and reflect upon individual work and the work of the team. The ability for empathy is a skill often discussed in the context of teamwork as team members need to be aware and understand each other’s feelings and needs.

Supporting the development of teamwork skills

Teamwork has been in the core of all learning at Haaga-Helia’s Porvoo campus since moving into the new campus building in 2010. The aim has been to enhance students’ teamwork skills such as listening, communication and conflict management. Over the years, this approach to learning has received both praise and criticism.

For many students, teamwork is a positive thing, for others, there may be too much of it. Some feel motivated by teamwork, others become even demotivated by it (Birkle et al., 2017).

Thus, the approach to creating a team is a key challenge for enhancing teamwork skills. Students normally prefer to work with their friends, who share the same values, ambitions and work ethics. However, for teamwork to improve, the lecturer (coach, facilitator) responsible for the team task or project should consider other strategies for creating teams.

One strategy is to create student teams with different strengths based on Belbin’s team roles or DISC profiling. A lottery-style draw is another option, as the team is then created randomly and skills such as compromising, conflict solving, and communication are naturally developed in heterogeneous teams. A much used third option is to recommend that teams are built with students from different degree programmes. Finally, if the lecturer knows the students well, s/he can create teams based on the existing competences of the students.

Strength and success with diversity

There are studies (e.g., Jansen & Searle, 2021; Leifels & Bowen, 2021) offering conflicting evidence of the success of diverse teams. Still many companies firmly believe that diverse teams have a creative edge, potential for cross-pollination and innovative thinking.

Also, our experience on campus (e.g., the Design Sprints, where all students join teams with students from different degree programmes) points towards diversity. The more heterogeneous and dynamic the teams are, with members of different genders, nationality, generations, educational backgrounds, and perspectives, the better the teamwork skills of the team members, as well as the performance of the team, are enhanced.

After all, in the world of work, graduates will not be allowed to choose the teams they are part of. Especially in bigger organisations, the variety of people to work with is huge.


  • Birkle, M., Holmberg, E., Karlqvist, M., & Ritalahti, J. 2017. Student motivation in inquiry learning: lessons from a service development project. In Handbook of Teaching and Learning in Tourism. Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • Jansen, A.E. and Searle, B.J. 2021. Diverse effects of team diversity: a review and framework of surface and deep-level diversity. Personnel Review, Vol. 50 No. 9, pp. 1838-1853.
  • Leifels, K. and Bowen, P. 2021. The dark side of teamwork–the relationship between social stressors, social resources and team member well-being in monocultural and multicultural work teams. Cross Cultural & Strategic Management, Vol. 28 No. 4, pp. 867-893.
  • Soffel, J. 2016. Ten 21st-century skills every student needs. World Enonomic Forum.
  • SUCSESS Project. 2020. GAP Report.
  • Wheeless, N. 2021. 4 Lessons for Building Diverse Teams. Harvard Business Review.