Team Work Lessons from Elementary School

There are many things about elementary school that most of us are glad we got to leave behind in the sixth grade…school bus rides, lukewarm milk, playground bullies, and silent lunches, to name a few. (Or was that last one just my school?) But all that aside, there are many valuable lessons from elementary school that can help you navigate the adult world, particularly in team work settings. There’s a reason that Robert Fulghum’s “All I really need to know, I learned in Kindergarten,” quote is so popular–it’s because this stuff works. So sit down on your carpet square, pop open a juice box, and head back to the days of swings and multiplication tables to learn how you can make your team function more smoothly.

Show and Tell

No, I’m not suggesting that you each dig up an old stuffed animal to talk about. But there are definitely lessons to take away from this classic grade school activity. First, and most obvious: share the spotlight. Everyone has great ideas, and everyone wants and deserves the chance to share those ideas. When a team member brings something to the table, give them their moment to shine. Don’t interrupt or overtake them before they’ve had a chance to articulate their thoughts. Instead, think of another valuable lesson from show and tell and just listen. When they are done, that’s your chance to ask questions and have a discussion (no, you don’t have to raise your hand) before moving on to the next team member’s idea. And definitely don’t forget that question and answer period—making sure everyone understands is just as important of a lesson.


Know when to take a break. I know, it seems so obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway, because knowing when to step back and pause is one of the most valuable skills one can have when working with a team. I’m not saying to head to your local playground. But if tempers are rising and voices are raising, find a way to casually suggest a break for some water, or say you want to stretch your legs. It’ll give everyone a chance to cool off and step back from the situation before regrouping. If you have the opposite problem–a group of overtired, distracted team members–the same trick works. Suggest a break so that people can take a short walk or grab a caffeine boost. None of these breaks have to be long–ten minutes, or even five will work. Under a deadline, it’s a great alternative to having everyone fade out or storm off.

Group Project

Many of you probably dreaded these in elementary school days, but I promise there are no dioramas involved in this tip. Think about how group projects were run in elementary school. If you had a good teacher, she probably created balanced tasks so that each group member had to do their fair share–and so they could pick the task that corresponded best with their interests. Take a note out of that book, and delegate. It’s one of those things everyone talks about doing, but doesn’t always put into practice. Know each other’s strengths, and work together to come up with balanced tasks that cater to those strengths. Again, this is something that seems really basic, but in many teams it’s easy for one person to take over and others to let them, either because they don’t want a confrontation, or they just get lazy. Following the group project model makes work what it should be–a team effort.

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