Friday, September 22nd, 2023

Group work

In some classes you will have group assignments. Students sometimes feel anxious about working in groups. Here are some strategies you can use to help your group work well together and achieve success:  


Why are there group assignments?  

To prepare you for your professional future.
Group assignments can help you prepare for professional situations. In the ‘real world’ you will find that you will almost certainly have to work in groups—usually not groups of your own choosing. You have to be able to pull together and reach a successful goal.  

To give you a chance to tackle significant projects
You can achieve much more if you have a group of people working together, contributing their different talents and perspectives and, above all, their time. In group assignments you can tackle much more significant projects, and often these are projects of professional importance.  

To enable you to demonstrate teamwork skills on your resume.
A record of good performance in a group assignment is an excellent contribution to your resume or curriculum vitae. Employers are particularly interested in teamwork skills—and what better way to impress them than to show them a really professional piece of work you have produced in a group assignment. 


Making the group process work well  

Get to know each other
The serious business of work will go more smoothly if you know each other. So the first thing to do is introductions. Later, you might like to share some social activity—even if it’s just a cup of coffee. (Make sure that the social activity does not exclude anyone).  

Check that you know how to contact each other
Make sure every member of the group feels equally valued. You might need to make a special effort to include everyone. Don’t let anyone feel like an outsider: one male student in a group of women may feel an outsider, as may one American student in a group of international students.  

Establish clear objectives
Spend time together analyzing the task, and make sure that you all have a common understanding of what is required. You might like to discuss your overall goals too—are you aiming for the best possible product, or will you be satisfied with just passing? If there are some group members who are more committed to achieving high grades, they may have to be prepared to do a greater share of the work. It’s better to know that up-front than to whine about it later.  

Identify your time frame
Work out what tasks have to be done and when. 

Agree on meeting places, dates, and times
Make sure you schedule your group meetings well ahead. There should be an agreed commitment to attend group meetings, so schedule the meetings when everyone can come. 

The meeting place also influences how successfully you can work. It should be a place
where you can talk without interruption and it should have proper work spaces.  

Keep notes during your meetings, and circulate them
This is a good idea, because later you can say, ‘Hey, you promised to do that job — it’s in the meeting notes!’ Also, it avoids any misunderstandings about what was agreed, and it avoids people going over the same ground again and again.  

Identify specific tasks, and allocate them
This is important to make sure that the work is divided fairly and effectively. Who has what skills or resources? Do you have a good graphic designer who will organize the layout? Is someone a good proofreader? Is there someone else who is good at theory?  

You may also want to choose a group leader and a note-taker or secretary — but do so cautiously! A chairperson should be someone who is strongly committed to the task and has the determination (and diplomacy) to keep things running smoothly. So don’t just choose the noisiest or most self-confident person.  

Achieve your agreed outcomes
Remember that not everyone will have the same level of commitment or the same values and attitudes. You should be able to expect commitment from your team members — but, just as in the ‘real world’, you may find yourself working with some slackers. Try to deal with this as positively as you can — getting angry or offended is not going to help much, and your instructor (just like your future boss) is not likely to be too sympathetic if you complain about your group members.  

Once you have completed the task, it is a good idea to debrief — share with each other what went well and what didn’t. It’s good to end on a positive note. Even if you just spend five minutes after class one day, it’s worth it to do this.  

Some of the most common problems that occur in group assignments are:  

  • Misunderstandings about responsibilities
  • (Perceived) lack of commitment in some group members
  • Personality clashes
  • One person doing all the work
  • To avoid these problems occurring, you need to adopt assertive (not aggressive) behavior.

Assertive behavior in group work  

Assertive behavior looks for win-win outcomes in communication in which everyone ends up feeling good about things.  

It does NOT mean getting everyone else to behave in the way you would like them to
behave (this is aggressive behavior), and it does NOT mean allowing other people to let you do all the work and have all the worry (this is passive behavior).  

Take a moment to consider the following chart, remembering that cultural ways of communicating may sometimes require extra consideration and flexibility.  

Assertive Behavior Passive Behavior Aggressive Behavior
  • prepared to negotiate solutions
  • listen to other people’s points of view
  • show understanding of other      people’s situations
  • find solutions to difficulties
  • being clear about your point
  • have self-respect and respect for      others
  • respect other people’s values and      ideas
  • express your feelings honestly and      with care
  • keep quiet for fear of upsetting other      people
  • avoid conflict
  • don’t express feelings
  • go along with things you don’t agree      with
  • apologize excessively
  • inwardly burn with anger and      frustration
  • vague about your ideas and needs
  • appear indecisive
  • get your own way no matter what
  • get your point across at other      people’s expense
  • are loud and noisy
  • interrupt others
  • put people down
  • manipulate people with silence or      sarcasm