2.2: Growing & Managing Teams Overview

Making (and reading) an OER is a collective effort, so it’s important to start thinking early on about who you want to have involved in your project, what they bring to the table, and what they can give and get from being a part of the team. This section of The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (So Far) will help you effectively collaborate with your team, identify key roles & responsibilities needed for your OER project and how you can recruit new members to join your project, and more.

Why is having a team important?

Teams bring a number of benefits to a project, and open up the potential for you and your resource to have an even bigger impact than if it were just you chipping away at the book.

A team around your textbook ensures that you have:

  • people to help share the workload
  • different perspectives and experiences that feed into the creation of the book
  • varying areas of subject expertise and knowledge
  • the option to draw on others’ time, skills, and expertise as the need arises
  • built-in networking
  • built-in marketing for the book
  • a pool of potential adopters
  • others invested in the long-term maintenance of the book
  • an enjoyable, social, collaborative, and overall fun experience!

Research shows that a diverse team encourages innovation, creativity, thinking, and can help you create a resource with a wider reach. For instance, diverse teams can help ensure that the book’s content is reflective of the world that learners inhabit, can help develop exercises or examples where all students can see themselves, and ultimately see to it that the resource does not reinforce the status quo or perpetuate stereotypes. A team that includes not just subject matter experts, but also instructors who have taught or will be teaching with the resource, can also make certain that the resource has a practical value in classrooms and to students.

What makes a good team?

Good teams don’t always form naturally, but often need to be carefully cultivated and looked after! A team is a living, breathing, group of people who need communication, time, attention, and shared understanding to keep working efficiently and happily. We hope these tips will help you cultivate an engaged group of people around your project.

  1. Make sure that your team consists of people who are invested in the project, and believe in its mission and goals. Your onboarding process for each team member should include a summary of the project’s purpose and if possible, a few emphatic sentences from you about why you are involved or what drives you about the project.
  2. Encourage members to be upfront about their workload, and what they can (and cannot) commit to. With open textbook projects, which are mainly volunteer-driven, there is often no shortage of tasks to complete. You don’t want to overburden your team, cause burn-out, or any ill-feelings towards the project.
  3. Make sure everyone understands the expectations of a given task when they take it on – you want to be sure that people complete what they have agreed to work on. A good team consists of everyone checking off their list of duties, no matter how large or small.
  4. Communication is integral to a team’s performance. Work on creating an atmosphere that encourages team members to talk to one another, share their progress on tasks, and indicate if they require more time or assistance, etc. The more interactions your team members have with each other, the less isolated they will feel, and the stronger the community around the textbook becomes.
  5. Each team needs a leader, but with open textbook projects, teams need more than formal leadership. As opposed to someone who is just shooting off commands or assigning tasks, open textbooks require project champions who will motivate and update the team, and in so doing, push the project forward. When you find these people, do everything you can to keep them!
  6. With a wide group, it can seem difficult to help everyone get along and complete their work, but the key is to make sure that each person on the team feels valued, feels like they belong, and are satisfied with their contribution to the project.
  7. Good teams ought also have a mix of people involved, and should be representative of the people who will be using the content. This diversity will help shape the resource through different lenses and perspectives, making it more applicable and useful to a range of users.
  8. If the content you’re working on involves traditionally marginalized communities, make sure you have representatives from those communities involved from the beginning – always remember, “nothing about us without us.”
  9. No two teams will be the same, and neither should their measures of success. A good team will define the intended outcomes of the project together, setting realistic goals for the group and for individuals based on the resources at hand. A team of five people might not be able to take on as much as a team of fifty, but that’s okay! Celebrate each completed task and milestone, and think of it as taking your team closer to the final goal.

Now that you know what makes a good team, you can begin putting this group together. Take a look at our recruitment guide to see how to find and onboard new members to your project.

What are your responsibilities to your team as a leader?

Good teams need nurturing and there are a few things that you should do to be a better project lead. This might go without saying, but be nice to everyone volunteering their time and energy! While you ought to remain focused about the project and its goals, you should also constantly remember that everyone on the team is only human. The well-being of the people on the team is just as important as the project itself, so be understanding when things don’t go as planned. As a manager, you need to see to the overall well-being of your group, but also not at the expense of yourself. This is a hard balance to achieve, but hopefully the tips and suggestions below will help!

Here are some other strategies you might find useful:

  • The best way to be a good project manager to your team is to be open and transparent about the project and related tasks. Make sure to give your teammates all the information they need upfront, and be clear about what you expect them to deliver. Setting clear expectations at the start of the project, and keeping the lines of communication open throughout the process is key.
  • If possible, you may want to develop team or community guidelines that you can share with each new member that lay out these simple expectations. In addition, as the lead you should set an example for the team, and stick to your deadlines for any task that you have committed to doing. It’s important that you do your portion of the work, or give enough warning to your teammates if you can’t complete it on time – and be clear that the same is expected of everyone on the team.
  • Ask all contributors to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at the outset of their involvement in the project, to clarify their roles and responsibilities in relation to the larger team. This document can help you clearly summarise your project and its goals, as well as the responsibilities and expectations of each collaborator. You can use our MOU template and adapt it to your project, or create your own. In the spirit of collaboration, make sure to sign the MOU yourself, so volunteers are aware that the same expectations and standards apply equally to them and you – and make sure you follow through.
  • If contributors have any questions for you, either at the start of the project or later down the line, be patient with them and do your best to answer their queries, even if the information is available to them elsewhere. As mentioned, volunteers will likely be juggling many different tasks, projects, and responsibilities, so they might forget details related to your project or get confused with their specific task. Here too, be patient and kind with interacting with them – it will make their experience of working on the project all the better! And on a practical note, keep as many of these exchanges public as possible, so everyone benefits from the responses, make sure any questions really are answered in your documentation (updating them if need be), and maintain a running list of FAQs that you can point people to.
  • Throughout the course of the project, be sure to recognise your volunteers and their time with consistent gratitude. Acknowledgment of their contributions and commitment goes a long way.
  • Make the experience an enjoyable one! Do your best to include some informal social time to catch up, discuss the weather and say hellos when you meet, during calls, or digitally, before getting down to business.
  • Give regular updates to all team members about the work taking place elsewhere on the project – this helps to make them feel connected to the bigger picture and can help motivate them to complete their own contribution. Regardless of a volunteer’s contribution to the project, this helps to make them feel like they are part of the team working towards a common goal.
  • Keep in mind that people on your team may be from different backgrounds, and as such, might face different challenges or have different needs when completing a task. It’s important that you don’t force your way or method of working on your fellow volunteers, and instead let them decide how best they want to forge ahead with a task. Remember that just because something is different, doesn’t mean that it is wrong.

Most importantly, try to be understanding and empathetic about your teammates. As a manager, you should provide contributors with a clear platform to voice their concerns, and also be clear about what decision- making processes look like in the team. Let volunteers know what your responsibility is to them and the project. Tell them how much time you plan to devote to the project, so they can see you meeting their commitments with your own.

Ultimately, having a team around the book ensures that the project will be an easier and more enjoyable experience, and that the resource will be more valuable and valued! Continue on to the rest of this section to see how best to form this team, manage and recruit collaborators, and keep everyone motivated and engaged.


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The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (So Far) Copyright © 2019 by Apurva Ashok; Zoe Wake Hyde; and Kaitlin Schilling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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