About the Author

Barry A. Friedman, Ph.D.
Professor, Competitive and Organizational Strategy
Simon Business School and Psychology Department, University of Rochester
School of Business, State University of New York at Oswego

About the Tool and Class

TitleForming competency-based student project teams with a Blackboard Survey
ToolBlackboard Survey. Please note than any survey software is applicable (e.g., Qualtrics or SurveyMonkey). (UR IT Blackboard support and Qualtrics training are available).
Tool descriptionBlackboard Survey is an easy-to-use web-based survey tool that allows instructors to effectively collect student input in an engaging fashion. Similar to Qualtrics and SurveyMonkey, Blackboard Survey is available at many schools that employ the Blackboard learning platform, including the University of Rochester. Students can provide input on a wide variety of subject matter, complete attitude or personality inventories, or participate in icebreaker activities (e.g., get to know your classmates at the beginning of a course). Blackboard Survey can be used in face to face, synchronous and asynchronous class modalities. It is most useful to collect information asynchronously, report results in class, and have students use the output for critical thinking exercises that help achieve learning objectives.
Class/ Target LevelUndergraduate and Masters level courses and students
Course TitleOrganizational Behavior, Simon Business School, University of Rochester
Background Information About the Class
The ubiquitous use of semester-long student project teams in University courses at all levels begs the question as to how best form teams. Instructors use a wide variety of methods ranging from random to student self-assignment. This case outlines a competency-based team formation process using Blackboard Survey that the author has used in undergraduate and MBA classes. For purposes of this case, the application of Blackboard survey in an Organizational Behavior MBA course is highlighted. This course presents behavioral concepts that influence individual, group, and organizational effectiveness. Course topics include leadership, motivation, team effectiveness, and organizational structure and change.
Lesson TimeWhile Organizational Behavior is a full semester, Blackboard Survey is an essential tool to form teams in the second week of the semester. The survey is administered asynchronously one week before the semester begins and is due by the second class meeting. Groups can then be formed during the first class meeting of the second week of class. Instructors therefore have time to process the student responses during the first week of class. The survey itself takes about 10 minutes. The subsequent in-class team formation process requires approximately 40 minutes.
Number of StudentsOrganizational Behavior is an elective MBA course in the Simon Business School. Class size ranges between 20 and 40 students. The students typically have a mixed but generally low amount of previous social science coursework and have a wide range of organizational experience from none (e.g., straight from undergraduate work) to ten years of organizational prior experience (sometimes in managerial positions). Participation is required in order to join a team which is critical as the team project is 45% of the final grade.

Please note that the process described here has successfully been deployed in undergraduate business and psychology courses.
Learning ObjectivesStudents will:
1. Identify and define specific knowledge, skills, and competencies required for project team success.
2. Learn an effective method to form and select team members based on task-relevant knowledge, skills, and competencies.

Lesson Plan


The Competency Based Team Formation Survey (appendix) is administered the week before class begins. Students are informed that a critical element of succeeding in organizations, and this course, is contingent on their responding to an organization’s Request for Proposal (RFP). The organization issuing the RFP is currently experiencing a major challenge. For example, the Wells Fargo and Volkswagen scandals were highlighted in recent semesters. The organization requested proposals to help them retain and motivate their valued employees during their organizational crisis. Each student team presents their RFP response to management (the instructor and rest of the class) during the last week of class, and the “contract” is awarded to the most comprehensive proposal (a grading rubric is included in the syllabus provided before class begins).


The Competency Based Team Format Survey can be used in one of two ways. For full 15-week semesters, students respond to a short survey that first describes the student team project (e.g. RFP task) and then asks them to list what knowledge, skills, and competencies they believe are required to “win the contract” by applying organizational behavior subject matter.

MBA courses typically consist of only seven weeks, so a shorter method is indicated. In this shorter version, the knowledge, skills, and competencies are predetermined by the instructor (from previous classes and the instructor’s project knowledge and experience). In this survey, students rate each knowledge, skill, or competency as to which they consider the following “a real strength” or simply “acceptable”. Self-rated competencies include leadership, teamwork, research (e.g., literature reviews) and writing.
The instructor then downloads the responses. Visualization is important. Thus the survey results are presented in a way that facilitate students forming teams based on complimentary skills (i.e., all the required skills are accounted for on each team). In the example provided each team has someone that has identified leadership, teamwork, writing and/or research as a “real strength”.

A simple matrix is presented in class (typically the first class of week two). For example:

1Fred S.  Strength 
2Sally F. Strength  
3Maureen M.Strength   
4Irene T. Strength Strength
. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .
19Ron G.StrengthStrength  
20Tara K.   Strength

Students are then tasked with forming teams with the proviso that each team has the skills required for the success. In the sample above, there are 20 students. A four person team can consist of Maureen (leadership), Ron (teamwork), Fred (research) and Tara (writing). Team size is contingent on the task: the more diverse are the skills required, the larger the team. My experience for most project assignments is between 3 and 5 students (e.g., small enough to increase accountability but not large enough to encourage “social loafing”).

Students are then instructed to form teams! After a few awkward moments, students stand up and physically arrange themselves in different parts of the classroom.


Once the teams are formed, students are instructed to sit with their teams for the remainder of the semester.  Students typically accept this arrangement. Students are also informed that managing team issues is part of the learning process. The instructor asks students to reflect on what they learned throughout the Competency Based Team Formation Process.  Sample debriefing questions are aligned with the learning objectives:

1.  How did you identify which skills were important for team effectiveness?

2.  What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Competency Based Team Formation process? Is this process different than how you form teams in other courses? At work? How so? Compare and contrast this method with other methods you have experienced.


Student response rates are typically high and follow up reminders are rarely required unless the student adds the course at the last moment or during the first week. Students report that responding to the survey(s) is easy whether they used a smartphone or their computers.

Students are typically engaged in the process and report it to be unique and more effective than when students self-select and far better than random assignment. Students report that they select courses (electives) based on irrelevant factors (e.g., if their friends are taking the class). This is especially prevalent with undergraduates but not unheard of at graduate levels. Teams may therefore consist of students that have overlapping rather than complementary skill sets, if the team possesses any of the relevant skills at all.

Students report that the process is practical and offers additional advantages. Students who claim to be strong in one skill can coach a teammate who feels they need development. A strong writer can coach a weak writer. In many instances, the coaching is reciprocal. The strong writer may be a weak leader but desires to improve leadership skills. Many express their intention to apply the Competency Based Team Formation Process in other classes and at work.  

An incidental benefit of survey results is an assessment of the class’s strengths and areas for improvement regarding the relevant skills. In the example above, teamwork appears to be widely distributed among students. However only one possesses research skills. Over many courses, this may have curriculum design implications.  


Like any online tool, Blackboard may present barriers to some students. Blackboard offers several accessibility tools (http://www.rochester.edu/college/disability/current/sensus-access.html).


Preparation time/materials

As described above, this is a one- or two-step process, depending on semester duration. Either way, the surveys take approximately 30 minutes to prepare, 10 minutes for students to take the survey asynchronously, 30 minutes for the instructor to analyze responses off line, and about 40 minutes for the in-class activity.

Once designed, the survey can be adapted for other classes very quickly and easily, almost eliminating the 30 minutes to prepare the survey.

Benefits and challenges of the tool

Blackboard is user-friendly and intuitive. Blackboard tracks respondents, making it easy to follow up with specific non-responders. Asynchronous data collection affords students time to reflect on knowledge, skills, and competencies relevant to the task (e.g., the RFP assignment in the Organizational Behavior course) and their own assessments on the resultant skill list.

While not a function of Blackboard, students often report difficulty assessing their own skills. That in itself is a learning opportunity! I typically ask the class to discuss how they assess their own skills. Typical responses include prior experience in similar situations and asking trusted colleagues for feedback.

In-class experience

Blackboard affords instructors and students alike a more strategic perspective on how to form teams, and an appreciation on how to use class time more effectively (e.g., collect individual perspectives outside of class and engage students in activities that require interaction and critical thinking in class). Blackboard allows instructors more class time to achieve subject matter learning objectives.

The actual in-class team formation process never fails to impress me. Students make data-driven decisions as to which team they should be on and on what bases to admit new students to the team. In other words, team formation decisions are fact-based.

The in-class process appears at first to be chaos as students figure out how to use the survey results to form teams. Students quickly form teams that consist of complementary and relevant skills based on survey results. The process quickly and effectively moves from chaos to order! 

Ease of use/Ranking

Blackboard is easy to use with both for the instructor and the students. Any device with Internet access can be used. Downloading data to Excel is convenient. A beginner-level of instructor computer literacy and almost no student computer literacy is required.


Competency-Based Team Formation Survey (Canvas)

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