2 Building a Team Overview

This section of The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (So Far) will help you understand why teams are important, what makes a good team, how you can recruit new members to join your project, and more. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY) and you are welcome to print this document, make a copy for yourself, or share with others.

If you’re looking to build a team around an open textbook project, or not sure why this is necessary, read through the sections below, and consider the suggestions as you get started.

If you have any questions about this, or any other of our guides, please feel free to post them in the Rebus Community project home. This document is an evolving draft, based on our experience managing open textbook projects and community feedback. We welcome your thoughts and contributions, so let us know how it works for you, or if you have any suggestions to improve the guide.

Let’s start with some mythbusting

There’s a fairly common, persistent (and completely untrue) idea around books that they are the work of a single person: the author. By having the author’s name plastered on the cover, their photo everywhere, and the long cultural history of authors and their solitary, tortured genius, the reality of what it takes to publish a book is obscured. But make no mistake – it takes a village.

The same is true with academic and educational publishing, where the focus is typically on the author or a small team of authors and their contributions. However, no book has ever been the work of just one person. Even single-author or self-published books will have editors, proofreaders, designers, and ultimately, readers who come to form a community around the book. Creating, publishing, and sharing knowledge is not a solo endeavour.

Knowing, then, that making (and reading) a textbook is a collective effort, start thinking early on about who you want to have involved in your project, what they bring to the table, and what they can get from being a part of the team.

Why is having a team important?

Teams bring a number of benefits to a project, and open up the potential for you and your resource to have an even bigger impact than if it were just you chipping away at the book.

A team around your textbook ensures that you have:

  • people to help share the workload
  • different perspectives and experiences that feed into the creation of the book
  • varying areas of subject expertise and knowledge
  • the option to draw on others’ time, skills, and expertise as the need arises
  • built-in networking
  • built-in marketing for the book
  • a pool of potential adopters
  • others invested in the long-term maintenance of the book
  • an enjoyable, social, collaborative, and overall fun experience!

Research shows that a diverse team encourages innovation, creativity, thinking, and can help you create a resource with a wider reach. For instance, diverse teams can help ensure that the book’s content is reflective of the world that learners inhabit, can help develop exercises or examples where all students can see themselves, and ultimately see to it that the resource does not reinforce the status quo or perpetuate stereotypes. A team that includes not just subject matter experts, but also instructors who have taught or will be teaching with the resource, can also make certain that the resource has a practical value in classrooms and to students.

What makes a team?

Teams come in many combinations, but all begin with…you! Your contribution and participation in the project is invaluable, regardless of whether you are the project leader or volunteer on a small task.

In our experience, teams around open textbook or OER projects often also include:

  • Project leaders
  • Contributors at all scales, be it a person writing five chapters, or someone proofreading just one
  • Students (graduate and undergraduate)
  • Advisors or some form of wise counsel
  • OER champions or advocates
  • Institutional supporters, such as instructional designers, OER librarians, CLT staff, etc.
  • Interested observers
  • Potential adopters
  • Community members

Teams behind open textbooks aren’t just a homogenous group of people with the same experience or role. And this is for the better! See our chapter on roles and responsibilities for a full list of the various team members you might need on your project.

What makes a good team?

Good teams don’t always form naturally, but often need to be carefully cultivated and looked after! A team is a living, breathing, group of people who need communication, time, attention, and shared understanding to keep working efficiently and happily. We hope these tips will help you cultivate an engaged group of people around your project.

  1. Make sure that your team consists of people who are invested in the project, and believe in its mission and goals. Your onboarding process for each team member should include a summary of the project’s purpose and if possible, a few emphatic sentences from you about why you are involved or what drives you about the project.
  2. Encourage members to be upfront about their workload, and what they can (and cannot) commit to. With open textbook projects, which are mainly volunteer-driven, there is often no shortage of tasks to complete. You don’t want to overburden your team, cause burn-out, or any ill-feelings towards the project.
  3. Make sure everyone understands the expectations of a given task when they take it on – you want to be sure that people complete what they have agreed to work on. A good team consists of everyone checking off their list of duties, no matter how large or small.
  4. Communication is integral to a team’s performance. Work on creating an atmosphere that encourages team members to talk to one another, share their progress on tasks, and indicate if they require more time or assistance, etc. The more interactions your team members have with each other, the less isolated they will feel, and the stronger the community around the textbook becomes.
  5. Each team needs a leader, but with open textbook projects, teams need more than formal leadership. As opposed to someone who is just shooting off commands or assigning tasks, open textbooks require project champions who will motivate and update the team, and in so doing, push the project forward. When you find these people, do everything you can to keep them!
  6. With a wide group, it can seem difficult to help everyone get along and complete their work, but the key is to make sure that each person on the team feels valued, feels like they belong, and are satisfied with their contribution to the project.
  7. Good teams ought also have a mix of people involved, and should be representative of the people who will be using the content. This diversity will help shape the resource through different lenses and perspectives, making it more applicable and useful to a range of users.
  8. If the content you’re working on involves traditionally marginalized communities, make sure you have representatives from those communities involved from the beginning – always remember, “nothing about us without us.”
  9. No two teams will be the same, and neither should their measures of success. A good team will define the intended outcomes of the project together, setting realistic goals for the group and for individuals based on the resources at hand. A team of five people might not be able to take on as much as a team of fifty, but that’s okay! Celebrate each completed task and milestone, and think of it as taking your team closer to the final goal.

Now that you know what makes a good team, you can begin putting this group together. Take a look at our recruitment guide to see how to find and onboard new members to your project.

What are your responsibilities to your team as a leader?

Good teams need nurturing and there are a few things that you should do to be a better project lead. This might go without saying, but be nice to everyone volunteering their time and energy! While you ought to remain focused about the project and its goals, you should also constantly remember that everyone on the team is only human. The well-being of the people on the team is just as important as the project itself, so be understanding when things don’t go as planned. Assume the best in people, as you might not always know what it going on with them or their lives outside of the project.

Part of being a good team player, and a better manager/lead, is also as simple as saying hello to anyone new to the team, and introducing them to the rest of the group! Small things like being welcoming, or publicly thanking people for their contributions show that you recognise the effort of each contributor. For more tips, take a look at our volunteer management guide (coming soon!).

If possible, you may want to develop team or community guidelines that you can share with each new member that lay out these simple expectations. In addition, as the lead you should set an example for the team, and stick to your deadlines for any task that you have committed to doing. It’s important that you do your portion of the work, or give enough warning to your teammates if you can’t complete it on time – and be clear that the same is expected of everyone on the team.

An effective way to finalise tasks, deadlines, and expected outcomes or deliverables from your team members is to sign a contributor MOU, contract, or agreement. This document can help you clearly summarise your project and its goals, as well as the responsibilities and expectations of each collaborator. You’re welcome to use or adapt from our contributor MOU template, or can write your own.

Ultimately, having a team around the book ensures that the project will be an easier and more enjoyable experience, and that the resource will be more valuable and valued! Continue on to the rest of this section to see how best to form this team, manage volunteers, and keep everyone motivated and engaged.

Need further assistance?

We hope these suggestions will help you build a strong and vibrant community around your project. We’ll continue to add to this guide as we work with more projects, and we welcome your ideas on what else we could add, or your feedback on how these approaches have worked (or not!) for you.

If you have questions, or anything to add, please let us know in the Rebus Community project home.


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (So Far) Copyright © 2019 by Apurva Ashok and Zoe Wake Hyde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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