Not long ago, I took this photo at Morningside Elementary School while on assignment for the Ft. Worth Museum of Science and History. My assignment was to write and illustrate (with photography) the story of the partnership between the Museum and the Morningside Children's Partnership, a powerful community-centered force for good in its namesake neighborhood on the southeast side of the city. Little did I know it would teach me the fundamentals of team-building.
Once a week throughout the school year, Museum teachers take 4- and 5-year olds on highly visual and highly engaging journeys through science or engineering topics. In this photo, three kindergartners are figuring out the best way to build a "house" capable of protecting critters from the wickedly strong winds on the Texas prairie. After a couple of designs fail to stand up against an oscillating fan, the team learns to resist the natural urge to stack 'em high. The resulting low-to-the-ground structure proves to be an engineering marvel.
The classroom was full of these little groups of 3, 4, and 5 kids, and eventually, each of these groups built a wind-proof structure. Each structure was unique from the others, and each one worked like a charm. At the end of the exercise, the teacher had a heck of a time dissolving the groups. Why? They had fun together, they figured stuff out together, and they were successful. Together.
How do you build an effective team? Give them real problems to solve. Give them the tools and the time they need to solve the problem. Give them space. Give them feedback and encouragement. And let them have some fun.