How Frontline Instructors Can Cultivate Effective Student Teams

Sophie Lindsay, Peter Wagstaff, Colin Jevons, and Angela Gracia B. Cruz reflect on their article, Cultivating Effective Marketing Student Teams: Making Instructors’ Tacit Theories Visible, which was published in the Journal of Marketing Education. Their reflection appears beneath the paper’s abstract.

Teamwork skills are important contributors to classroom learning outcomes and graduate employability. Although much has been reported in the literature about the components and characteristics of effective marketing student teams, less is known about how such knowledge is conceptualized and cultivated by frontline marketing instructors. This study applies a perspective of tacit theory to in-depth interviews with frontline instructors in undergraduate marketing courses. Our findings, summarized in a framework of adaptive cultivation of effective teams (ACET), highlight how instructors perceive effective teamwork as a dynamic interaction between three interwoven components of team effectiveness (team composition, team member behavior, and team culture) and adjust their interventions across these components. Overall, this study uncovers instructors’ tacit theories of cultivating effective marketing student teams, and how these tacit theories impact in-class practices.

We were motivated to pursue this research because teamwork is important in every aspect of the professional world of business, even if students may say they hate it!  Indeed, the importance of student teamwork has been consistently acknowledged over the long life of the Journal of Marketing Education.

But how do we teach it?  This study investigates how frontline instructors cultivate student team effectiveness and uncovers some of their tacit theories about student teams.  It shows that there are four key dimensions of effective teams, in contrast to prior literature that was less incisive.  These dimensions, which are team composition, member behavior, team culture, and performance, are non-discrete, closely interwoven and cultivated adaptively by instructors.  We develop a conceptual model from this evidence, the model of Adaptive Cultivation of Student Teams, for educator guidance and also for future researchers to build on.

The research encourages reflection on our teamwork approaches and enables discussion about our own hidden assumptions about teams, gaining insights into teamwork generally.

It was surprising to see interwoven dimensions about student teams. Much prior work on exploring student teamwork focused on clearly discrete dimensions, whilst our work shows that instructors would benefit from acknowledging that the dimensions of team composition, culture and performance are closely interrelated.  Importantly, we are able to show a variety of means for instructors to cultivate more effective student teams.

This research is innovative because it focuses on instructor practice rather than the student voice which much teamwork literature has been based on. Consequently, it provides actionable insights for educators.  Our research also uncovered some interesting tacit theories that highlighted the need for formalized staff training.

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Colin Jevons, Sophie Lindsay, Peter Wagstaff, and Angela Cruz

Colin Jevons (upper left) is an associate professor of marketing at Monash University. Sophie Lindsay (upper right) is a work integrated learning lecturer at Monash University. Peter Wagstaff (lower left) is a senior lecturer in the Department of Marketing at Monash Business School. Angela Cruz (lower right) is a senior lecturer in marketing at Monash University.

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