For a variety of reasons, collaborative learning teams, project teams or design teams are now a part of undergraduate engineering education. In response, the current education-related literature is flourishing with team-type topics that include when and why teams, team dynamics, and how to structure teams. Almost non-existent, however, are discussions about the role and impact of the faculty member in and on student teams.
Extrapolating from the professional project management literature, project and team success is heavily influenced by positive management. Businesses that fail to train and reinforce positive management run unacceptable risks. The risks to us as educators, who use teams in less than ideal situations, include a lack of learning, project failure, and dysfunctional teams that foster an aversion to teams. This is in direct contrast to what we hoped and what we have been asked to do, which is to provide an understanding about the power of teams, to develop teaming skills, to enable design successes, and to enhance the learning.
Proper management of student teams requires skills and strategies that are much different from those that most faculty members are experienced with. The strategies include planning for and implementing an understood work process, providing a suitable organization compatible to that process, structuring and communicating with the team, and holding the individual accountable. The skills start with two risk taking beliefs: (1) you do not have to have all the answers and (2) it is not you against them, but about you with them. With the right attitude, the skills of leading by example, guiding towards peak performance, and managing for optimal team experiences follow.