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44 – Collaborative Team Agreements: Affective Norm-Building in Ongoing Group Projects


  • Anaid Yerena, School of Urban Studies, UW Tacoma
  • Heather Heinz, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, UW Tacoma
  • Cynthia Howson, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, UW Tacoma


Groupwork can be an effective mode of learning. However, this success is often not equitable (Collins, 2009). Inclusive and effective collaboration is significantly affected by students’ ability to recognize and communicate their emotional needs within the context of particular social norms (Bielh & Thøgersen 2007) and social identities (Bluic et al. 2011). As a Decolonized pedagogical practice (c.f. Zembylas 2018), we present a team agreement activity. This activity includes reflections on and discussions of emotions as a part of student group agreements. We applied this technique in preparation for an undergraduate study abroad experience and a graduate-level final group project. By prompting students to ask their own questions and seek out diverse answers, team agreements allow students to take seriously the diversity variety of each group member’s emotional and affective needs, and to learn how to collaborate accordingly. Our approach to team agreements centers on the production of common knowledge so that students define the parameters of their relationships and how they want to move forward with them.

Emotionally relevant group contracts are transformative on several counts. They: 1) allow students to develop communication tools that validate their own and others’ distinct needs; 2) hone students’ existing strengths and skills in conflict management; 3) promote an increased productive academic environment that allows students to focus more efficiently on the broader course learning goals; and 4) foster accountability among group participants. By incorporating group agreements into our courses, we have observed that students are better able to convey their emotional needs to others and interpret others’ emotional needs; this activity also signals to students that emotions have an important role in academic and professional settings. We anticipate this group contract activity to be broadly applicable across disciplines wherever student group dynamics are at play for extended project tasks.