Developing Teamwork (or Ways We Can Work Together to Get Through COVID-19)

Written by: Kate Walton, Dana Murano, & Alex Casillas
ACT Center for Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning

We are well into our second month of dealing with the fallout of COVID-19. We continue to be challenged in ways we never expected. Our work circumstances are different, the routines of our children and family members have changed, and our social lives have been upended. Our social and emotional skills have certainly been put to the test. One skill in particular that has been unmistakably relevant is teamwork. Teamwork reflects one’s collaboration, empathy, helpfulness, trust, and trustworthiness.

“We’re all in this together.” This is the message that we are hearing everywhere. This sentiment reflects core aspects of teamwork – working together, helping one another, and empathizing with what others are going through. This skill may be more important now than ever before, but we should not lose sight of its value even under ordinary circumstances. People are really pitching in now to help others but wouldn’t it be great if everyone continued such acts of empathy and kindness long after COVID-19 is contained?

It is unfortunate that sometimes it takes a bad situation, such as a pandemic, to prompt people to work collaboratively and think carefully about the welfare of others. Regardless, our current situation offers us all a golden opportunity to practice our teamwork skills, which will undoubtedly have long-lasting effects. Below we provide some lessons and activities from ACT’s Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Assessment and Curricula solutions designed to help anyone develop teamwork skills.

Differences in perspectives. Although we’re all in this together, everyone’s experience of COVID-19 is different. Some people have been hit hard – having contracted the virus, having lost jobs, having lost loved ones – while others’ experiences are less dire. Even though we might observe or experience the same thing objectively, our subjective observation or experience may differ. This lesson illustrates that not everyone sees the world from the same perspective and helps students learn how to take the perspectives of others.

Finding common ground: positions vs. interests. Given how COVID-19 has affected our current circumstances, you may find that you are in conflict with others around you more than usual now. Many of us are stuck at home in close quarters with our families, and as a result, many of us may be more prone to frustration or to have a short fuse. In this activity, students can think about some ways that they can effectively resolve conflicts with others.

Are all oranges alike? Some people may think that all members of a certain group are affected (or unaffected) by COVID-19 the same way. Group membership may be based any number of characteristics, such as wealth, geographic location, or race/ethnicity, to name a few. In this lesson, students will engage in an activity that illustrates how different people can be, regardless of how “alike” they may seem at first glance. This concept is illustrated using oranges!

Service project. Now is an opportune time to exercise your teamwork skills by reaching out and helping your community. Despite social distancing, many service projects can still be done at home or by utilizing technology. In this activity, students can think of ways to help others through these troubling times.

In addition to lessons and activities that are part of ACT’s SEL Assessment and Curricula solutions, below are a few more tips that could be useful.

Practice patience. A few weeks ago, we introduced a Mindfulness activity. You can use this activity to slow down and relax when your patience is being tested. You don’t have 10 minutes for the whole activity? That’s okay; try a two-minute version, by focusing on steps 1 (breathing) and 2 (settling).

Practice thinking before you speak. At times we blurt out the first thought that comes into our heads without considering the consequences or hurt feelings that could follow. Instead, pause and go over what you want to say, and think about how it might be received by your audience. If you think it could come across as hurtful or mean, rephrase it (or don’t say it) to avoid hurting or offending others.

What can you do for others? As we mentioned earlier, many people are experiencing the pandemic differently. Do you know someone who is an essential worker right now? How about a hospital employee? Can you help your parents take care of younger siblings in your home? Try to think about how others around you are experiencing the pandemic differently, and if there are things you can do to help them right now. A little bit of help can go a long way in times like these. Not only would you helping others, but, according to research, you’ll likely become happier yourself!

What did you do today? This is a common question at dinner time. Children are asked about what they learned in school, and adults are asked about something that happened at work. Try adding a small twist at the end: What did you do today to be kind? If you get into the habit of asking this regularly, it can signal than being kind is as important to you and your family as school performance or work issues.

The current pandemic is forcing us to work, learn, and interact with others in new ways. We hope that you have found these resources and tips useful as you adapt to this new way of life. Despite the grim news we hear each day and the challenges we are facing, we are also observing acts of gratitude and kindness and hearing messages of unity – that is, people are exercising a great deal of teamwork. Our goal with this blog series has been to help educators, students, and their families focus on social and emotional skills, such as teamwork, that can help with coping with the challenges brought on by the current pandemic, as well as with developing the skills to manage future challenges and experiences more successfully.

Kate E. Walton, PhD

Kate E. Walton, PhD

Kate Walton is a principal research scientist in ACT’s Center for Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning. Prior to joining ACT in 2017, she was Associate Professor of Psychology at St. John’s University. She received her PhD in Personality Psychology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Minnesota in the Psychology Department’s Clinical Science and Psychopathology Research Program. She is interested in social and emotional skill assessment and development.