Collaboration, an Essential 21st Century Skill

Collaboration is one of the skills we need to prepare our students for. We are preparing the next generation for a world that current business leaders call VUCA. VUCA essentially means “the world is going somewhere but we don’t know where!” The acronym stands for Volatile (unexpected/unstable), Uncertainty (change is probable), Complexity (lots of interconnected parts and variables), and finally Ambiguity (unclear/unknown). Yes, this is the future, the world of VUCA. To help students become part of this world, 21st-century learning skills have been identified. For this post, I want to focus on collaboration.

The point of collaborating in the current workforce is because of the increasing complexity of the world’s problems. One person possibly cannot be an expert in everything needed to solve tomorrows problems. Collaboration helps everyone move forward, collaboration results in results. Collaboration, if done well, puts us closer to achieving our goals. Therefore, we must explicitly teach good collaboration skills.

When we are good collaborators we listen intently, consider the view of others, come up with ideas and a process for solving the problem or achieving the common goal, be able to come to a consensus and resolve conflicts along the way. These skills are all important and must be taught. One thing I want to stress is, preparing students for the 21st century and making them aware of what skills and how to develop them is not a one-day lesson but a cumulative effort.

Interpersonal Skills

The first skill is being able to build trust, find common ground, have empathy and be able to build good relationships with others around us. Working with others is not going to be beneficial if we do not have the basics of relationship building learned first. I think the best way to facilitate and model this is with morning meetings, but you can refer to social skills and how to work in a group anytime. During morning meeting it is a great time to work on greetings and common courtesy, manners, personal space, and communication skills such as:

  • Active Listening
  • Asking Questions
  • Answering and expressing ideas and thoughts
  • Body Language
  • Agreeing/disagreeing respectfully
  • Compromising & Negotiating

Teamwork

It is important to also learn how to work with others on a team. Understanding how each team member brings their own knowledge and skills and how together more can be achieved. Students also need to learn to be assertive without being bossy, when to lead and when to let others lead. Demonstrating empathy for their team members and working together towards a common goal.

Project & Task Management

Setting goals, creating timelines, assigning jobs, being responsible for a job, finding resources, meeting deadlines, and being flexible about it all is important as well.

Next Steps…

  • Make sure to make the assignment objectives & goals clear to the student.

  • Group size matters, ideally 4-5 people in each group.

  • If students are young, establish group norms as a class. Students that are older can establish the norms within their group.

  • If group roles need to be assigned, have students do that.

  • Think about using real-world issues to work on.

  • Have the groups focus on a problem-solving approach to work through their problem.

  • Watch out for dynamics in the group and make note of student’s comfort level, effort and adjust.

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