No one teaches you how to be a part of a team. In Purdue Engineering, you will get lots of practice working with different teams. And make no mistake, working with a group of people takes practice!

Being a part of a team and learning how to communicate and collaborate is a skill you will need to learn that will affect every area of your life.  From living with others, to navigating co-workers in your career, to parenting, to teaching; there is no area of life where teamwork skills will not be beneficial.

Teamwork is a Skill.  It takes Practice!”  That’s the title of an article written by Jo Miller of Be Leaderly.  She says, “throwing together a great bunch of people offers no guarantee that they’ll work together productively…. Our education typically does not include frameworks for learning and practicing how to work in teams.  We are expected to know how to do it.”     

We all understand this very clearly.  No one teaches you how to be a part of a team.  All throughout school, you are randomly thrown together with others, often complete strangers, to do group projects.  You have to sort yourself out, and accept the fact that not everyone contributes the same amount of work.

It took me a long time to realize that I don’t process information the same way my current teammates do.  They can come up with ideas off of the top of their heads.  A lot of them are extroverts, and thinking out loud is the normal method they use to form new ideas.  That’s not the way it works for me.  I need time to think about a problem before I can come up with a solution.  Neither approach is bad or wrong.  It’s important to understand that everyone processes and verbalizes information differently.   

Luckily, at Purdue Engineering, you will have lots of ways to practice being part of a team.  You can join EPICS, GEARE, VIP, a Global Design Team (GDT), or VEIL, and of course, you’ll get plenty of practice in courses with team projects or with your lab partners and on your own senior design project.  All of these experiences are opportunities for you to learn more about yourself and how to be a contributing and effective member of a team, and what that means.  

Please check out this highly informative video, from the Purdue University Honors College, called The Four Pillars of Good Collaboration.  You can read about the Four Pillars of Good Collaboration and the descriptions of team frameworks in  this article (written by Adam Edward Watkins, Alexandra Crouch, Jacki Malayter, Jacob Nolley, and Rahmaan Ruth). It includes:

  1. Psychological Safety
    1. Group Norms
    2. Equitable Participation
    3. Encouraging Vulnerability
  2. Communication
    1. Active Listening
    2. Being Deliberate
    3. Visual Tools
  3. Team Roles & Strengths
    1. Recognize Individual Strengths and Interests
    2. Establish Roles Based on Team Needs
  4. Consensus
    1. Shared Purpose and Goals
    2. Making Group Decisions
    3. Checking in & Managing Conflict

It’s good to know what’s expected of you when you’re on a team, and what strengths you bring to the table.  Every team you work with will be different, and some might not include leaders who have any idea how to run a team efficiently.  With this article, you are now prepared to introduce some best practices, and potentially become that leader yourself.  I know that working on a team, especially when that team is virtual, can be very challenging, and even frustrating.  Please think of this time at Purdue as a way to practice and learn.  You are not expected to be perfect or to have all the answers.  But you are encouraged to learn, to make mistakes, and to ask questions.  If you are struggling, please reach out to a professor, a staff member, a grad-mentor, or a T.A.  They can point you to someone who can help you. 

And give yourself a break!  Sometimes it’s YOU who is putting all the pressure on yourself.  You’re already worthy just as you are.  Don’t forget that.  And watch this video from Simon Sinek, on being okay with “being the stupidest person in the room.”  Sometimes we take ourselves far too seriously.

If you need to, please reach out to me at



Written by Rhonda Haan

Photo Credit:  Javier Allegue Barros, Unsplash