About the Collaboration Toolbox


See also the 10.26 Team-Building Home Page


Outside Motivations

The individual engineer churning out solutions to complex equations alone in a cubicle has become a thing of the past. Increasingly, engineers and scientists are called upon to work on teams to rapidly and effectively accomplish major tasks for their organization. Becoming an effective member of this new work force requires technical proficiency, and successful collaboration. Engineers possessing excellent technical skills as well as leadership and management experience are an asset to any industry or institution fortunate enough to acquire their services.

In response to the call for team-oriented engineers, M.I.T. has instituted The Collaboration Toolbox, which is funded through a grant from the D'Arbelloff Fund. This web based program is intended to support faculty in providing students with a better understanding of how to collaborate more effectively with their peers, teaching assistants, and faculty and to provide a better understanding in how to form, lead and work on teams. The Collaboration Toolbox is a web based instructional material allowing students to gain experience working in a structured team environment with their peers, faculty members, and often industrial consultants. The instructional material and exercises help students to become aware of the underlying dynamics of team work, the culture of M.I.T. and other organizations. After several years of development within courses in the Chemical Engineering Department, the Institute has decided to extend an invitation to other faculty and staff to use these resources.


The Collaboration Toolbox

The Collaboration Toolbox is an online resource developed to facilitate the incorporation of structured team formation and maintenance into courses at M.I.T. There are currently five modules:

  • Forming Teams
  • Meetings
  • Communication
  • Conflict Management and Negotiations
  • Project Planning
  • Leadership Skills
  • Communication
  • Assessments (assessing yourself and others)

Each section of a module is a self-contained lesson on a particular aspect of teambuilding that contains text and exercises. These modules can be used independently or as part of an integrated whole. The site also incorporates several interactive questionnaires that students can complete, which are designed to enhance the team formation process.. These include free-response type questionnaires that can be filled out by members of a team and compiled into a report to help establish ground rules for a team . Other questionnaires are designed to support the rapid formation of an effective team culture, as well as a variety of individual assessments (personality type, leadership style, and conflict management style) that consist of a series of multiple choice questions designed to enable students to gain a better understanding of their personal habits, leadership skills, and preferences in order to use their skills more effectively.

The Collaboration Toolbox is designed to allow instructors to peruse the material available and then choose a structure and content that is tailored to the requirements of their course and students.


Goals of the Collaboration Toolbox

The goals of the collaboration toolbox are for students to learn to:

  • Form and maintain a team.
  • Collaborate in a project setting.
  • Experience different roles on the team and understand different perspectives.
  • Create and establish effective ground rules for a team.
  • Set up systems that enhance the team process.
  • Create a system for making decisions.
  • Brainstorm alternatives effectively.
  • Identify a team’s strengths and resources.
  • Identify and minimize potential weaknesses of a team.
  • Create mission statements.
  • Manage conflict by creating systems to deal with common problems.
  • Set up effective communication systems.
  • Identify similar values and use this information to communicate effectively.
  • Make constructive comments that are nonjudgmental and create motivation.
  • Listen actively and understand what someone else is saying.
  • Enlist the help of all members of a team and create equitable work plans.
  • Plan activities and delegate tasks.
  • Create plans of action for a team to do the assigned tasks.
  • Plan and execute a meeting.
  • Create and plan reports to communicate a team’s progress.
  • Assess a team’s progress.


Using the Toolbox

All of the information on the primary Collaboration Toolbox web site is available to the M.I.T. community free of charge at http://web.mit.edu/collaboration/. When instructors decide that they would like to incorporate one or more modules into their own course, they select the sections of the modules that they would like to use and the site generates a “secondary” site tailored to the needs of that course. The secondary site called the course creator can contain a limited amount of textual material (provided by the faculty member who created it), a listing of the sections of the modules available, exercises chosen by the faculty advisor and links to those sections. The faculty member can then include the course creator site as a link from their course homepage, distribute the URL to students, or make it available in any way they choose.

Creating and accessing course creator sites is also free of charge. Instructors wishing to create a secondary site need only submit a registration including their name, email address, course name, and course number in order to verify their status as M.I.T. faculty members.


Future Goals

While the Collaboration Toolbox already contains a large amount of information and a variety of exercises and questionnaires, it is still being expanded in hopes of creating an even more comprehensive tool to facilitate the development of teamwork and leadership skills. Future plans for the Toolbox include the incorporation of user and team portfolios Talk to the Team Wizard, a conflict management problem-solving tool for students, and Coach the Coach, a conflict management problem-solving tool for faculty.


Contact Information

For more information on the Collaboration Toolbox and incorporating this material into your course, please contact:

Bonnie Burrell at 617-258-0733, bburrell@mit.edu or 508-748-2130.

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