May 2024 - Teaching teamworking skills

Teamwork is a collaborative effort to achieve a common goal or complete a task. Strong teamwork is essential to optimise performance in multidisciplinary healthcare environments. 

The General Optical Council's ‘Outcomes for Registration and Approved Qualifications’ stresses the importance of teamwork. Outcome 2 (communication) and Outcome 6 (Leadership and management) emphasise the need for effective collaboration within healthcare teams. Additionally, the GOC's Standards for Approved Qualifications in Optometry or Dispensing Opticians, outcome S3.3 stresses the need for experience of team work. 

Guest contributor, Professor Irene Ctori, Associate Dean Undergraduate Studies, City, University of London gives her insight into the value of teamwork and how it can be instilled in optometry learners. Her thoughts are also wholly applicable to dispensing opticians. 

Why is teamwork important? Professor Irene Ctori PhD PFHEA FCOptom

Team-based learning is fundamental to shaping optometry students into collaborative professionals. It is a vital part of their education, designed to build not just knowledge, but also clinical skills and professionalism. Through group work and discussions, students learn how to work together effectively, preparing them for the diverse environments they will encounter as optometrists.

In the field of optometry, graduates find themselves in various settings, from NHS hospitals to private clinics and beyond. Many optometrists choose to combine roles across multiple diverse settings in a portfolio career that offers challenge and variety of experiences. They often work alongside other eye care professionals, like dispensing opticians, orthoptists and ophthalmologists and may be part of a large multidisciplinary team. This teamwork is crucial for providing comprehensive care.

Today's optometry graduates are more than just skilled practitioners; they're leaders in their field. They understand the importance of clinical governance and are committed to improving services and promoting local and national public health initiatives. Equipped with teamwork skills gained through their education, graduates need to be ready for the challenges of a career in optometry. This includes how to collaborate effectively, ensuring they can excel in any situation they encounter.

How can teamworking skills be encouraged?

Educators play a pivotal role in fostering teamwork skills among optometry students. By leading by example and demonstrating effective collaboration, educators set the tone for cooperative learning. Educators should aim to enhance learner confidence by providing opportunities for students to actively engage in team-based activities and discussions, empowering them to contribute meaningfully within a group setting. Moreover, they should encourage self-reflection as a means to reinforce teamwork skills, prompting students to evaluate their own contributions, communication strategies, and collaborative dynamics. Through this multifaceted approach, educators aim not only to instil the importance of teamwork but also to equip their students with the tools and mindset necessary for successful collaboration in their future careers as optometrists.

Further suggestions on developing teamwork skills in learners

  • Help learners to identify their own strengths and weaknesses to establish what role they can bring to a team. A way to find this out could be through the use of questionnaires, or as Robin Wait suggests, through games. These can provide valuable insights into what learners are capable of when put under a healthy amount of competitive pressure. Gamified teamwork can also help determine which learners work well together. Kasey Davis et all suggest the use of escape rooms to add variety, interactivity and value to teaching sessions.
  • Give learners opportunities to share interests to find common ground and to help them bond. Ice breaker activities are an effective way to encourage team camaraderie.
  • Use role play and simulations to encourage empathy and compassion. Getting learners to answer questions as if they were the patient will help them view situations from different perspectives. Learners could be given a scenario of a patient problem with roles allocated to different learners. Whilst adopting the mindset of their particular role, encourage them to come up with suggested solutions. Eileen Adel Herge, at al have created a quick yet practical exercise that allows learners to strengthen teamwork skills with a simulated patient and caregiver. Role play also helps foster empathy which means that learners are more likely to adapt and compromise, which is essential for successful teamwork.
  • As Irene Ctori highlighted, encourage self reflection. Questions to consider - did they listen well? Did they contribute? Did they encourage others to contribute? Did they help the group come to an agreement? Were they able to manage conflict and disagreement within their group?
  • Strong communication skills will stand learners in good stead for successful teamwork. February's Topic of the month feature provides useful resources on developing communication skills.
  • Vary the setting. Ensure learners are exposed to confidential discussions, informal conversations, debates and wider team conversations.
  • Peer to peer assessment and feedback. To hone teamwork skills, students need experience and to receive regular feedback, both from peers and educators.

Maha Pervaz Iqbal also raises a valuable point - as learners progress from the basic sciences to more clinical work, the repertoire of activities increases from more in-class collaborative learning, such as problem based learning, team based learning and informal study groups towards interprofessional and workplace collaborative learning in clinical contexts. Therefore the type of learning and teamwork that students are exposed to is constantly evolving, depending on the stage of their professional journey.  

Have your say

We would welcome additional guest contributions, if you would be interested, please contact

Irene is an accomplished optometrist with over three decades of experience. Irene began her career with several years in high street community practice, then further years as a specialist optometrist at Whipps Cross University Hospital leading a fast-track AMD clinic and conducting complex adult, low vision, and paediatric eye examinations.

Irene completed the MSc in Clinical Optometry in 2012 and her PhD in 2016 and went on to become a lecturer at City, University of London, infusing her teaching with a wealth of practical knowledge gained from her extensive clinical background. Irene's influence expanded to leadership roles, including serving as Head of Department 2019-21, and since then as an Associate Dean where she has since played a pivotal role in implementing the new MOptom programme. Irene was promoted to Professor of Optometry in 2023.

Irene has been a stalwart advocate for optometry in her roles at the College of Optometrists. Recently elected as Vice President, a Council Member since 2018, and Trustee since 2021, she passionately champions both the College and the broader profession. Irene has extensive experience in Higher Education and is a Principal Fellow of the HEA. Irene has been the Chair of the Education and Standards Committee since 2022, advising on all aspects of standards in professional practice and optometric education.

Bibliography and references 

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Gregory R. Goldsmith,* Miranda L. Aiken, Hector M. Camarillo-Abad, Kamal Diki, Daniel L. Gardner, Mario Stipčić, and Javier F. Espeleta (2024) Overcoming the Barriers to Teaching Teamwork to Undergraduates in STEM

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Hobgood C et al, (2010) Teamwork training with nursing and medical students: does the method matter? Results of an interinstitutional, interdisciplinary collaboration

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Wang R, University of Westminster (2022) How to enhance students’ participation in teamwork that is not assessed

University of Waterloo, Teamwork Skills: Being an Effective Group Member