How to Transform Any Team of Experts into an ‘Expert’ Team (Part 2)

Mirjam Neelen & Paul A. Kirschner

In our previous blog on this topic (Part I), we discussed the existing research on how to help a team of individual experts become an expert team. In that blog, we concluded that learning and performance interventions increase team performance but that it wasn’t particularly clear what these interventions should look like.

So, we dived a bit deeper to explore what research is out there to answer this question. The guidelines we’re using here are from Burke and colleagues (2004) but we adapted them to make them broad and useful for both learning professionals and managers. Before beginning, we’d like to emphasise that the example is quite ‘generic’, simply because the scope of research on team effectiveness and development is very broad and the constructs involved are extremely complex (see Part I of this blog for an overview) and it’s simply impossible to capture them all in an example. So, bear with us, this is just a starting point.

First, in order to identify where a team ‘is’; in other words what their level of performance is, you need to start with analysing a) the team’s expected performance outcome(s) and b) the competencies needed to achieve that performance outcome. You also need to be aware of the phase that the team is in (based on the TEAM model below from Fransen et al., 2013).

expert team2.png

Figure I. Essentials of the TEAM model with teamwork phases, team development stages, and the convergence of task-related skills and team-related skills during team maturation.

Now let’s assume the analysis is done and you’ve explicated the task and/or teamwork gaps that the team needs to strengthen. To make the tools and examples more concrete, we’ll use the following goal:


 Improve the collaborative decision-making process during a project[1].

set the stageset the stage2

design and implementdesign and implement 2

Last but not least, you need to regularly and systematically evaluate the team’s journey towards becoming an expert team. This evaluation needs to be multidimensional. It’s impossible to spell out a concrete example without a real-world context, however, you can – for example – use Will Thalheimer’s book Performance-Focused Smilesheets to create valuable questions for all team members to (repeatedly?) answer. In addition to this subjective way of evaluating, you also need to find a way to measure team outcomes more objectively (e.g., through structurally monitoring decision-making outcomes).

We need those expert teams badly and you can help them to get where they need to be.



Ausubel, D.P., (1968). Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Burke, C.S., Salas, E., Wilson-Donnelly, K., & Priest, H., (2004). How to turn a team of experts into an expert medical team: guidance from the aviation and military communities. Quality & Safety Health Care, 13, i96-i104. Retrieved from

Fransen, J., Weinberger, A., & Kirschner, P.A., (2013). Team effectiveness and team development in CSCL. Educational Psychologist, 48, 9-24. Retrieved from

Salas, E., DiazGranados, D., Klein, C., Shawn Burke, C., Stagle, K. C., Goodwin, F., & Halpin, S. M., (2008). Does team training improve team performance? A meta-analysis. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 50, 903-933. Retrieved from

Thalheimer, W., (2016). Performance-Focused Smile Sheets: A Radical Rethinking of a Dangerous Art Form. Work-Learning Press.

[1] Note that this goal has a teamwork focus and not a task-focus (see Salas et al., 2008).

[2] Note that the AOs as defined by Burke et al., (2004) and Cannon-Bowers et al., (1998) are different from Ausubel’s original definition of AOs. Ausubel defines AOs as “appropriately relevant and inclusive introductory materials….introduced in advance of learning…and presented at a higher level of abstraction, generality, and inclusiveness” (p. 148). He distinguishes between comparative and expository organisers. The first points to a relation between existing schemas and the to-be learned information while the second is used when there’s a need to explicitly provide an anchor in terms that are already familiar to the learner (Mayer, 1979). As Mayer states, first, AOs are best used “when material is unfamiliar, technical, or otherwise difficult for the learner to relate his or her existing knowledge” (p. 372) and second, an important question to ask is ‘What will be learned when AOs are used and under what circumstances?’ In other words, AOs following Ausubel’s definition must be adapted to the individual learner’s needs.

[3] Fransen et al. (2013) emphasise that teams need to practice working together in order to reach certain things like back-up behaviour, shared mental models, psychological safety, etc.