Fil Salustri's Design Site

Site Tools


Team Contract

It is useful to document the team's expectations, so we require each team to create a team contract. The reason for such contracts is simple: if your team becomes dysfunctional, we want a document to which we can refer during team remediation that covers what you expect of your teammates.


A team contract template is available for download as a Google Document.

While the team contract is not graded per se, we do require you to submit it via the LMS. Furthermore, it will be reviewed by your TA and your instructor and you may be instructed to update or refine it if it is found to be insufficient.

Instructions and deadlines for submitting your team contract will be distributed via the LMS.

The instructors will expect you to live up to your team contract, so make it good.

Five tenets of cooperative learning

Working in teams means learning in teams too; all work you do in life is also a chance to learn something new. To promote learning as a group, we expect team contracts to embody the following five tenets of cooperative learning.

Individual accountability
All team members will be accountable for the work they did and for understanding everything in the project (not just their individual parts of it).
Regular self-assessment
Take time every week to think about your contributions to the team, and how the team is functioning. If you have concerns, raise them to your TA or instructor ASAP.
Appropriate behaviours
In a team, you are responsible for more than your own behaviour; you are also responsible to try to support your teammates when they need it. This may mean compassionately pointing out unprofessional behaviours, intervening in deteriorating situations, speaking up to support good ideas when you hear them, and being flexible if teammates run into personal or academic difficulties. Adhere to Wheaton's Law at all times.
Real-time interaction
Nothing beats face-to-face meetings - even if only through Zoom. Use chat and email as necessary, but make sure you take full advantage of your face-to-face meetings count.
Positive interdependence
The single best way to get a good grade is to work well together. The single best way to learn from your projects is to work together. Support each other, without taking over for others.

Questions to answer in a team contract

Here are some of the questions your team contract must answer. You may add others as you see fit.

  • Other then class, when will the group attempt to meet (what time, how often, where):
  • Group meetings - how long should the meetings be?
  • When is it OK to skip a meeting?
  • How do we communicate with each other (in case someone is running late, etc….)?
  • How will we deal with chronic lateness to meetings?
  • What does on-time really mean?
  • What is our expected behaviour regarding mobile phone use and other distractions during meetings?
  • Can we bring food to meetings?
  • How do we deal with members who do not participate enough or distract others from our work?
  • How are we going to make decisions?
  • What will we do if group members work do not hold up to our group standards?

Some Examples

All the following examples are drawn directly from actual team contracts.

Example 1: Ensure everyone is unanimous with your ideas and thoughts, do not do things on your own without the consent of everyone in the team. Submit your part of the project on time, do not make everyone in the group even more stressed than they already are. If you have any problems with group members, please inform everyone in the group and we will try to sort things out. If problem persists, then we will approach instructors for help.

This was submitted as part of the RULES that a team set for themselves. While some teams may well be able to work with this set of rules, this approach won't work for everyone. Here are some possible variations.

  • Sentence 1: It's not a question of consent but rather one of agreement. Consent implies permission, which implies a “power hierarchy” within the team. This is not a good idea. It's better to think of all team members as equals (from the point of view of power).
  • Sentence 2: There implied blame by the team on the person who misses a deadline. Knowing that one will stress the group by missing a deadline stresses the person who misses the deadline. This sets up a feedback loop and soon everyone is overstressed. Recognize, instead, that mistakes happen, that “real life” can interfere with school, and that flexibility is key.
  • Sentence 3: Not every person can handle confronting their team about inter-team concerns. It's better if everyone be encouraged to reach out to someone in these cases. If a team member feels uncomfortable with bringing matters up to the whole team, they might not even indicate their discomfort - for precisely the same reason. It's a circular situation from which the only escape is to talk to someone else. All students are free and strongly encouraged to contact either their TA or instructor if they feel uncomfortable talking to their teammates about it.
  • Scheduling is missing entirely here. It is a good idea to put down in writing when and where off-class meetings will be held, what communication channels will be used, expected times between requests and their fulfillment, etc.

Example 2: We will have a strike system that will take place when any defiance of rules or expectations occurs. Strike One would entail a verbal warning from the group members, reassuring the defiant that he/she must understand the implications of their actions and work towards not committing them again. Strike Two will take place when problems continue and the group is unable to solve it on their own and must proceed to notifying the teaching assistant. After which, if the defiant continues to cause even more problems that the TA is not able to resolve, the instructor of the course will be notified. This is the final strike, strike three which will be handled by the instructor.

While the “progressive consequences” (the “strike” system in this case) is baked into a number of social and judicial systems, this particular variant leaves a lot to be desired.

  • How is “defiance” recognized exactly?
  • Is there a mechanism for the person accused of defiance to voice their side of the story?
  • How are decisions on consequences decided, by vote? If so, what majority is necessary? Is it a closed or open vote?

There's nothing wrong with this style of consequencing, but it has to be fleshed out enough to prevent misunderstandings and give everyone equitable opportunity to explain themselves and preserve openness of decision-making.

Example 3: The team’s goals for this project are as follows:

  1. Identifying the situation around the product
  2. Identify limitations: economic factors, etc that limit the possibility of some of our solutions
  3. Find a current solution that exists
  4. Find best solution.

This is a very poor attempt to set goals, for the following reasons.

  • “the situation around the product” - this shows a lack of understanding of the term “situation”, even though it's essential to the design roadmap.
  • Never use “etc”. Provide an exhaustive list.
  • Finding “a solution that exists” is trivial. The question is to find a reference design, which is far more complex. Without doing this well, the entire rest of the project will very likely fail miserably.
  • “Find best solution.” Define “best”. Best for who? What happens if the team runs out of time?

Example 4: We wish to develop and refine our communications skills.

This is another very weak goal:

  • Which communications skills specifically? Graphics? Design? Oral? Written?….
  • To what extent will they be refined/developed? How will you know?
  • If grades are going to be used to note development, what will satisfy the team, a 10% improvement from a previous course? 20%? What if not everyone has taken the same previous course against which to measure improvement?

Example 5: Participation: Equal contribution amongst all members.

Besides the questionable English, how exactly will “contribution” be measured? Number of pages written? Number of tasks completed? Number of hours spent on the project? Some combination of these?

It's entirely possible for different team members to have different ideas on what counts as contribution, and that such differences could lead to huge interpersonal problems later in the semester, which will in turn ruin your project.

There is no perfect, quantifiable measure of “contribution”. What if a team member contributes a single, highly innovative idea that results in an excellent design? What if that team member also is largely absent from meetings? How will you judge that team member's contribution?

Look at first page of hits of this Google search. See how many different ways there are to treat contribution?

In a case like this, take the time to decide as a team what “contribution” actually means to you, and then write a few sentences into the contract to capture that.

Furthermore, what does “equal” mean? Equality is also a very difficult concept, because equality often excludes individual diversity and can impact individuals' performance. Equity is a better concept to use; equity is balancing abilities with needs - one must set one's expectations of others in accordance with each person's abilities rather than using a universal standard.

teaching/team_contract.txt · Last modified: 2021.09.11 21:15 by Fil Salustri