Instructor Resources

The Essential Guide to Creating Balanced Teams in the Classroom

March 3, 2021
A team of five looking at a laptop together

The process of forming teams is often overlooked, but it is arguably one of the most important steps that define your students’ collaboration experience. A highly compatible team can make or break students’ motivation in group projects. When students don’t have to worry about dealing with other team members, they can focus more on learning from the assignments.

Let’s walk through how instructors can get students on the right foot with balanced teams.

How many people should there be in a team?

According to Elizabeth G. Cohen and Rachel A. Lotan’s book, Designing Group Work, the optimal size for a group is four to five students. This allows everyone to participate in productive conversations and effective collaboration. A larger group would result in members being excluded from conversations. In smaller groups of three, two people would often form a coalition, thus isolating the third student.

How long should the team stay together?

Teams should stay together for as long as possible. This is because it takes a while for groups to start working well together (naturally going through the process of forming, storming, norming, performing). It is recommended that teams stay together for a significant portion of the term or the entire semester.

How important is diversity in teams?

Studies have shown that teams with diverse backgrounds perform better. Each person brings a different perspective to the table and ultimately contributes to the optimal solution. This includes diversity in gender, race, culture, language proficiency, etc.

However, it is important to note that if a student is a minority in a group (for example, one female student in a group of male students), they would often end up being isolated from the rest of the group. Therefore, when assigning teams, instructors should make sure that each student has at least one characteristic in common as one other student.

Forming balanced teams

Now that we got the basics out of the way, how exactly do you form balanced teams? There are three main strategies commonly employed by instructors, each with its advantages and disadvantages listed below:

We hope you’ve found these tips helpful for your next group project deployment! For more info on best practices of group work, you can check out Elizabeth G. Cohen and Rachel A. Lotan’s book, Designing Group Work: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom here.