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A-C-T-I-O-N, We Want Action!

Professor Sophia Braxton taught a Service-Learning class that had a semester-long focus on a community project. She devoted one class period each week to project team discussions. She was very concerned about one of her teams. They just never seemed to follow up on their assignments. It was a month into the semester and the team had accomplished very little.

When she observed the team’s discussion during class, she would frequently overhear them talking about the sporting events of the previous day. That gave her an idea. She developed a scoring system for the team that they could use to score themselves on the actions they needed to take. She talked to the group about it, and they agreed to follow her plan.

At the end of each class, the team developed an “action register.” They gave each item on the action register a point value. When they had their next team meeting, they would award themselves points based upon what was achieved. To keep them honest with their evaluations, Braxton gave them a scoring rubric.

The scoring system was a great motivator. The team kept statistics and trends on their scores. Even more remarkable was that they started adding items to their action register to give them a higher possible score. Within a month the team made up for their lack of action in the first month. In fact, they surpassed some of the other teams. Professor Braxton decided to build the scoring system into her future classes.

Virtually every collaborative group faces challenges in getting work accomplished. Often this is due to two things: forgetting what needs to be done, and a lack of commitment to completing the assignment.

An action register should be maintained throughout the discussion and reviewed at the end of the discussion. The action register should list the tasks that need to be done, the person(s) responsible, and a due date.

Lack of commitment is more difficult to manage. People always have excuses (some valid) when they fail to get done what is needed. Shaming individuals tends only to build resentment.

What Braxton did was create a scoring system that the team could use to view their progress as a team. They evaluated themselves, which led to a focus on team improvement. Most importantly, the team developed a pride in their scores.

Scoring systems, if used properly, can be great motivators. Self-evaluation is critical. The team has to have an honest sense of what they did versus what they planned to do. The scoring system also needs to be team-based rather than individual-based. Every team member needs to feel a personal commitment to the team. This is best done by fostering a sense of shared responsibility to getting the work done rather than shaming those who fall short. When a team member feels overcommitted, this needs to be shared with the rest of the team so that the action register can be adjusted.

While lack of action can be an issue with collaborations, there are simple and effective ways to overcome this challenge.

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 “Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

This post is part of our “Think About” education series. These posts are based on composites of real-world experiences, with some details changed for the sake of anonymity. New posts appear Wednesday afternoons.