The Behaviour in Teams (BiT) Project

The BiT project started in October 2015 in the Department of Psychology at the University of Sheffield, and is currently based in the University of Sheffield Management School.

Team work

About Us

The BiT project emerged from the increasing need for universities to change from knowledge-based learning to skills-based learning. In higher education, a high percentage of learning occurs by organising students to work in team assignments. Nevertheless, very few universities provide guidance about teamwork dynamics so that the students can make the most of working in teams. Given that employers are keen to hire graduates who are able to work in teams, these are important skills that students need to develop. Therefore, the BiT project provides interventions that are aimed at improving one of the main aspects of teamwork dynamics: communication skills.

In order to improve communication skills, the BiT team provides a team level intervention for students. This begins with a series of short video modules to explain to students how different verbal behaviours can impact the productivity and satisfaction of teams. The modules also allow students to practise the behaviours themselves. Once the students have gone through these modules as a team, a trained observer then attends the student team meetings and categorises the verbal behaviours of each student using common language behavioural categories (e.g. proposing ideas, disagreeing, giving task information). At the end of each meeting, the observer is then able to provide team members with feedback about the behaviours they used. Feedback enables team members to reflect on their use of different verbal behaviours, so that they can adjust their behaviour to the benefit of the team.

Behaviour Analysis (Historical Background)

The original research that led to the BiT Project started with work with BOAC (now British Airways) between 1968 and 1972. A group of researchers were looking for a simple way to study the effectiveness of real life teams so they counted how often the members of a team used certain types of behaviour and then looked at whether the frequency of those behaviours was in any way related to team or individual performance.

Other researchers in the field, such as Robert Bales, had developed similar tools for observing teams, but these were often difficult to code accurately and used categories like “negative socio-emotional behaviour” that were hard for team members to understand. The Sheffield researchers were more interested in helping teams to develop and improve interactive team skills, and less interested in studying them so they developed a set of easily identifiable behaviour categories that could be learned quickly. They intended for their behaviour categories to be based on everyday language that team members could easily understand, such as ‘giving information’ and ‘supporting’. So they developed an analytical tool while working with British Airways and other companies.

The researchers wanted to collect and use the data in real time to give feedback to group members. This meant using fewer categories, and accepting some messiness in the data. They experimented with a whole heap of different behaviour categories, which changed according to the context and mission of the team. The categories used for the BiT project have been selected and refined from the research of the BiT Project Team over the last two years so that they are the most appropriate for improving teamwork performance for student groups.

Behaviour Analysis (BA) uses content analysis to record different categories of communication behaviour that occur within a group or dyad. Similar to other coding systems, codes are applied to distinct sense units that reflect a sequence of words that convey communication behaviour. However, unlike other methodologies, BA is a ‘short-cycle’ method, which involves the systematic collection of real-time data from the observation of dyadic or group interactions, and the use of that data as a feedback mechanism to guide the future behaviour of those observed. Many of the existing coding schemes are ‘long-cycle’ methods, where data is usually collected by video or audio recordings and the researcher applies behavioural codes after the meeting has occurred.

The BA coding system arose from research conducted by Rackham, Honey and Colbert (1971) into BOAC (now known as British Airways) supervisory teams. The behavioural categories were originally developed inductively by observing video recordings of supervisory team meetings. The BA coding system uses five criteria for identifying behaviour categories:

  1. It must be possible to change through training,
  2. The category must be meaningful to the observer and the person being observer,
  3. It must be possible to reliably observe, 
  4. Categories must be distinct from each other,
  5. There must be a relationship to outcome

(Rackham and Morgan, 1977: pp. 19-20).

Rackham and Morgan (1977) also outlined criteria for giving feedback to team members (p. 178):

  1. It should accurately describe what happened;
  2. It should avoid negative evaluation by being non-critical;
  3. It should be relevant to on-the-job performance; and
  4. It should be given in units small enough to be assimilated easily and acted upon.

The BiT project uses the criteria outlined above for generating coding categories and giving feedback.

For more information, watch this video.

The BiT Methodology for Training and Research

For Training

The BiT project has staged several interventions to help train students to develop their teamwork skills. The methodology that BiT uses to provide feedback to students is quick and convenient. The whole process is as follows:

  1. Students are given some training input into the different behavioural categories and how they can influence team outcomes.
  2. Students, working in teams, are observed in real-time, and their behaviours are coded by a trained observer using an iPad app.
  3. At the end of the teamwork session the student's data is sent uploaded to a feedback website.
  4. The students can access the website from their own devices, and can view their behaviours from the session.
  5. The students are then asked to reflect on their feedback, and commit to changing their teamwork behaviours.

This process is rapid, and provides immediate feedback while the students are still able to remember their behaviour.

BiT Feedback Process

For Research

The data collection app that we use facilitates data capture for our research. The BiT Project has two main aims when it comes to research. The first is to improve its teamwork interventions so that students will be able to get the most from the experience. The second is to use the data in order to better understand teamwork processes.

Different levels of intervention

In our recent research, we have used two different levels of intervention. For the first level of intervention, the students are shown instructive videos to help them develop their awareness of teamwork behaviours. During the video, the team members are given opportunities to practise the behaviours in 'fluency exercises'. The students then work in their teams, and have their behaviour coded by trained observers. At the end of the team meeting the students are encouraged to reflect on their work. However, they are not given feedback on their behaviour based on the data the observer has collected. The second level of intervention follows the same procedure as the first level, except that the students in this intervention are given feedback on their behaviours, based on the data collected by the observer.

The aim of having two levels of intervention are to investigate which type of intervention is more effective, and also which type of intervention is more scaleable. Our recent research has also included a control group. The students working in the control group have their behaviour coded by trained observers, but do not receive any feedback or guidance during the lifetime of their team project, although they do once their project has been completed.

Researching Teamwork Processes

The BiT project is engaged in several research projects around teamwork and behaviour analysis. This research helps contribute to a wider understanding of teamwork processes whether they be around the sequencing of behaviours, leadership, participation behaviours, or peer review in teams.

Our research enables us also to improve and modify the category system we use to code verbal interactions in meetings. We work to ensure that our category systems for coding behaviours remain relevant to changing teamwork contexts. An example of this is that we now use an "online" behaviour to reflect that most people now attend team meetings with some sort of device, and will likely consult it at some point during the meeting. Other aspects of teamwork behaviour may change, such as leadership styles. There are also many different contexts for teamwork, from medicine to events management to engineering projects. In each of these contexts, different behaviours may be more relevant than others in order for the team to work effectively. As part of our research, we are experimenting with different coding categories for different contexts to identify the most effective method of improving team effectiveness in that context.

The BiT Category System for Teamwork

BA uses a set of criteria for developing categories. One aspect of the BiT project is to continually refine and test new categories. Our two previous projects with the Faculty of Engineering have used the BiT categories listed below to code interactions. These categories are used because research has shown that they are important for teams to be effective. Watch the video here for more information on how the behaviours are useful for teams.

BiT Category System

The Main Constituencies of the BiT Project

We have three main constituencies for the BiT Project. These are the main groups that we hope to help with our research.

The Students

The students at the University of Sheffield are our most important constituency. The main focus of our activities is to provide useful input for students and to try to help them to develop their teamwork communication skills. This means that all of our research activities begin with us asking how we can make a difference to improve the teamwork experience and learning outcomes for students.

The University

The project is a recognition of the increasing need for universities to change from knowledge-based learning to skills-based learning. Traditionally universities were locations where privileged knowledge was transferred from lecturers to students. However, in recent years knowledge has become a more easily accessible commodity through the growth of the internet and online learning. With this being the case, many universities are now concerned with skill development as much as knowledge transfer. Universities are increasingly using teamwork projects as a vehicle for student learning, however very few universities offer structured teaching and feedback to help students to develop teamwork communication skills. Employers consistently rate teamwork and communication skills as among the most important skills they're looking for in graduates. The BiT project aims to develop teamwork modules that can be used by the university to facilitate student learning of these important skills.


Our third aim is to carry out research into developing teamwork skills. To do this, the BiT project uses Behaviour Analysis (BA) to carry out real-time data collection of communication behaviours through observation of team meetings. BA is a short-cycle method, in that we use the data to provide feedback immediately after the meetings. In this respect BA differs from other research methods that tend to be long cycle, where researchers code meetings after they have occurred, and so can't provide feedback to the team in a timely fashion. We use BA to carry out research that we hope will improve understanding of effective models and interventions to develop teamwork communication skills.

We have collaborated with different groups within the University of Sheffield. We are always eager to hear from anyone who wishes to collaborate with us.


Prof. Jeremy Dawson (Principal Investigator)  -

Neil Rackham (Visiting Professor)

Dr Sam Farley (Associate Team Member)

Dr Madina Hasan (Associate Team Member)

Prof. Rod Nicholson (Associate Team Member)


Technology is central to the BiT method. Observers use a bespoke iPad app to capture team behaviours in real-time. The data is uploaded via Wi-Fi to our network server for secure storage and processing. The processed data is then visualised on the iPad app to provide immediate feedback to team members.

The app has been developed in-house by the BiT project. The app was originally written by Prof. Rod Nicolson. This version of the app was deployed and used on more than one hundred iPads to collect data during the Engineering challenge weeks during 2017 and 2018. We are now using the lessons learned from these experiences as we re-develop the app to meet the future needs of the project.

The new version of the app will feature many usability improvements to make the coding process easier and more accurate. The app will be more flexible and configurable, to support the various projects and collaborations that we are planning. We will seek to make the data synchronisation with the cloud seamless and automatic. We will use mainstream and proven technologies such as Swift to produce a robust and sustainable codebase that will provide a platform for future development and research.

Research Projects

Integrated Design Project (2019)

In 2019 we ran a research intervention with 3rd year Engineering students. These students worked interdisciplinary engineering teams on a semester-long project, called the Integrated Design Project. The BiT team designed an intervention on core interactive behaviours for teamwork, with 31 teams taking part. Our previous teamwork interventions (GEC & EYH) were in week-long projects. This was our first intervention to take place over several weeks.

This project built on previous interventions in several significant ways:

- The students had access to their feedback at anytime through an online platform
- We modified the video interventions with about 50% of the time allocated to exercises to practise the behaviours
- We provided the observers with more in depth training on facilitating feedback
- We produced a new coding app with improved functionality, e.g. improved coding UI & improved design of feedback charts
- The intervention took place over a longer period of time, so students were able to focus on one set of behaviours per week.

Our analyses so far are only exploratory, but these initial findings indicate that the intervention was successful in helping students modify their behaviour when working in teams.

Behaviour in Tutorials (2018/2019)

During the 2018/19 academic year, we explored using the Behaviour Analysis methodology in small group teaching. We recruited university teaching staff undertaking professional development modules in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. We observed them teaching small groups and developed a category system for coding the interactions that took place. We also asked students to fill in short questionnaires evaluating the teaching session. Our sample included lecturers and tutors from various disciplines, including Biomedical Sciences, Computer Science, Economics, Management, Nursing, Psychology, and Sociology. Our observations and feedback were received positively by the teachers, and the categories we used yielded significant correlations between the teaching behaviours used and how the students perceived the tutorial. We are currently consolidating our findings from this research project.

Creativity in Teams Pilot (2018)

In October 2018 we conducted research in the Management School into how different interventions can influence creativity in teams. This project involved 9 different teams, with 3 different interventions. Although the sample size was small, there were indications from the data that supported how a team should spend its break time in order to be more creative. We intend for the results of this pilot to be carried forward into further research into team creativity

'Global Engineering Challenge' and 'Engineering You're Hired' (2018)

In 2018 we ran a research project to improve two categories of team behaviours in the BiT Model, Initiating and Balancing Participation categories. This research project involved collecting data from 191 teams over two separate week-long projects. For this data collection we trained over 100 observers (current postgradute students at the university of Sheffield) to observe and code the verbal behaviours of the student teams. The students who took part in this research were divided into three different research conditions, and received varying levels of intervention on their behavioural changes as they progressed through the project. We are currently undertaking analyses of the effectiveness of the different interventions for behavioural change.

'Global Engineering Challenge' and 'Engineering You're Hired' (2017)

In 2017 we ran a research project which aimed to help students improve their teamwork skills. Students working on week-long projects were given input into how to change their behaviour in teams, and then provided with feedback throughout the week by trained observers. This feedback took the form of charts where they could see their behaviours and speaking time compared to the other students in their teams. This informed the students of their behaviours and made them more aware of who was talking more or less during the team discussions.

This research project involved collecting data from 139 teams over two separate week-long projects. For this data collection we trained over 80 observers (current postgradute students at the university of Sheffield) to observe and code the verbal behaviours of the student teams. The students who took part in this research were divided into different research conditions, and received varying levels of intervention on their behavioural changes as they progressed through the project (see BiT research methodology).

The ‘Global Engineering Challenge’ (GEC) and 'Engineering You're Hired' are mandatory modules for first and second year undergraduate students at a Sheffield University. Students are organised into interdisciplinary engineering teams (of 5-6 members) to conduct a research project that involves producing a solution to a real-world engineering issue. Research projects are adapted from the Engineering Without Borders (EWB) Design Challenge. During the week, student teams work in hubs that accommodate six teams and they attend daily lectures, workshops and project meetings from 9am to 5pm. At the end of the week, the teams give a presentation to other teams in their hub on how they have tackled their problem. They are also required to submit a report on how they approached, researched and designed the solution to the engineering problem they have addressed.

Our results from this project helped us to redesign the intervention for 2018, including the redevelopment of educational video materials and the timing of our feedback interventions.

Training of Behavioural Observers (ongoing)

Our training produces highly qualified observers that can reliably observe and code the verbal behaviour of the members of a team. Training to students who are interested in learning how to identify team verbal behaviours has been an important aspect of our research this far, and is something we hope to develop futher in the future.

The purpose of this training is to ensure that they are familiar with our behaviour category system (see The BiT Model), and to ensure that we are able to achieve a high level of inter-rater reliability when it comes to coding the team behaviours. 

The training is divided in two main stages. The first stage is delivered through modules to test the observer's understanding of the 15 behaviour categories. This module is on an iPad app, which a person can download and practice at home. The purpose of this part of the training is to familiarise the trainee with an app that they will use to code the verbal behaviour of teams. The training lasts an average of 5 hours that the trainee can divide over the course of three days. During this training, the trainee watches videos that provide him/her with information on different verbal behaviours that people use during teamwork, followed by practical exercises where he/she listens to 5 people working in team and identifies the verbal behaviours that the team members use in conversation. These series of videos and exercises gradually provide the trainee with enough information to be able to quickly identify the main behaviours people use during teamwork. At the end of the training the scores from the exercises that the trainees have completed are stored on the app. These scores inform the research team of how well the trainee has learnt to differentiate between the different behaviours, and whether they are suitably trained to become an observer.

For the second stage of the training, the trainees attend two full-day workshops, where team verbal behaviours are explained in more detail. The trainee also has the opportunity to practise observing a team and to categorise in real-time the verbal behaviours of this team using the iPad app.

Publications and Conference Presentations

Farley, S., Hernández Ibar, D., Meade, K., Greenaway, T., Jefferson, N., Dawson, J., Nicolson, R., Evison, R., Rackham, N. (2019) How can we make meetings more inclusive? An intervention study. European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology Conference, 29th May - 1st June, Turin, Italy.

Greenaway, T., Meade, K., Hernández Ibar, D., Dawson, J., Farley, S., Jefferson, N. (2019) SIETAR Europa Congress, 27th May - 2nd June, Leuven, Belgium.

Hernández Ibar, D., Meade, K., Greenaway, T., Jefferson, N., Dawson, J., Farley, S. (2019) What am I supposed to do when I am asked to be a team leader? European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology Conference, 29th may - 1st June, Turin, Italy.

Meade, K., Hernández Ibar, D., Greenaway, T., Jefferson, N., Dawson, J., Farley, S. (2019) Sequential analysis of verbal behaviours in teams using real-time coded data. European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology Conference, 29th May - 1st June, Turin, Italy.

Farley, S., Evison, R., Rackham, N., Nicolson, R., & Dawson, J. (2018). The Behavior Analysis Coding System – An applied, real-time approach for measuring and improving interactive skills. In E. Brauner, M. Boos and M. Kolbe (Eds) Cambridge Handbook of Group Interaction Analysis. Cambridge University Press.

Hernández Ibar, D. N., Rackham, N., Evison, R., Dawson, J., Nicolson, R., Farley, S. & Meade, K. (2018) Identifying the behaviours that internal student-team leaders use through a methodology that codes behaviour in real-time. Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Leadership Symposium, 9th - 12th May, Chania, Greece.

Nicolson, R., Farley, S., Rackham, N., Evison, R., Dawson, J., & Hernandez-Ibar, D. (2017) Assessing and Fostering Teamwork: The Behaviour in Teams (BiT) System. Solstice & CLT Conference, 5th – 6th June, Edge Hill, United Kingdom.

Farley, S., Nicolson, R., Rackham, N., Evison, R., Dawson, J., & Hernandez-Ibar, D. (2017) Behaviour in Teams (BIT) Analysis: A new method of coding meetings in real-time that enables immediate post-meeting feedback. European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology Conference, 17th – 20th May, Dublin, Ireland.

Farley, S., Nicolson, R., Rackham, N., Evison, R & Dawson, J. (2016). The Behaviour in Teams (BIT) Approach to Providing Team Process Feedback in Meetings: A Pilot Study and Research Proposal. The Institute of Work Psychology International Conference, 23rd – 21st June, 2016. Sheffield, United Kingdom.