Group Work

At some point in your degree, you will be expected to work in a group to produce a piece of work. This could be a presentation, a research project, or a demonstration. In general, group projects are designed to promote team- building and personal development. However, group work in university is more likely to be task-centred, so you will have to concentrate on getting the task done.

Working in a group can be a challenging experience for students. Group work is part of most academic learning now, and is designed to help you gain skills needed in the workplace.

Employers value good team-working skills. Confidence, initiative, and team spirit will help you not only gain a job, but also to get ahead in the workplace. Being an active contributor, listener, motivator, and leader are skills desired by most employers.

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Group projects are not everyone’s idea of fun. Many students are not happy that others can impact on an important assessed mark. Others are shy and feel embarrassed or overwhelmed when placed in a team situation. Nonetheless, group work can be highly successful and, when worked at, gain good marks.

The vital thing that you need to consider in group work is communication.
Poor communication is probably the thing that will damage a project the most. In today’s technological world, there really is no excuse for not being able to
communicate.

How are we put into groups?

Tutors may decide to either let you form your own groups or put you into groups of their choice. Sometimes, they may simply group the students alphabetically. You may think that choosing your own group members is the best way to go, but this is not always the case. If you choose good friends, it can be difficult to be critical or honest about their input. Learning how to give constructive criticism will develop good working relationships, but do it badly and you could ruin friendships. So, be careful about insisting on friends in group work.

What about arranging the first meeting?

It is important to initially arrange a schedule of meetings that you can all attend easily. You need to decide how often you will meet: weekly, fortnightly, etc. A regular time slot would be an advantage. By having a schedule, everyone has to make a long-term commitment to the project. Flexibility is also needed, however. We all know how random life can be, so absences should be accepted and dealt with by sending out notes from missed
meetings or by catching up later to verbally tell the member what happened.

In the first meeting, the group should decide on a set of objectives and outcomes for each week. The long-term objective is obviously the end product, but short-term goals are important to set too. By doing this, everyone is aware of what should be happening week by week.

I don’t want to work in a group; I’d rather do it on my own.

It is a well known fact now that employers like their employees to be “team members” and be able to work in groups together. By getting over any objections to group work now, you will be well equipped to face it once you
are out in the workplace. If you are worried that other group members may not pull their weight, consider the fact that although they may not put much effort
into finding evidence, they may be an expert on Power Point or desk top
publishing. It may surprise you what they can put into the project. The whole point of team working is to pull on individual strengths and to overcome weaknesses by working together. Some people are natural leaders while others are happy to be led. Of course, group dynamics can sometimes be uneven and effort has to be made to stabilise the team.

Should we all have different roles to play?

Your group will be made up of individuals who will have different feelings
about working in a team. Some may have had previous experience and others will have none. But these individuals have to come together to form one
working body. There is a widely accepted process of how this happens:

• Forming: a busy time initially trying to figure out what you are all going to do in the task. Many members will worry whether the task will get done at all.

• Storming: conflict may arise at how each member thinks the task should be done. Some may feel anxious that they are being ignored or not treated equally.

• Norming: you will eventually settle down into roles and be able to take the task on fully. Differences should be resolved and members should be showing co-operation and consideration for each other’s needs. Members should now feel valued, and work can continue.

• Performing: the members now feel confident working together and work progresses. Members should feel they can voice opinion without prejudice and all members should be enjoying the task.

Are “ground rules” a good idea?

Ground rules are necessary if you want your group to work effectively. They should be set at the “forming” stage. These rules will help set time scales and expectations of each other. They should obviously be achievable and fair. Some rules could include the following:
• Length of meetings
• Apologies to be sent prior to meetings for absence if possible
• Openness and honesty
• Where and when should work be collated together
• Responsibility for taking notes

Obviously, your team should create its own ground rules, but at least if you have some, there should be consistency in your work and the goal will seem easier to achieve.

“Group = individuals working together as one”

A team has to take care of three things: the task, the group dynamics, and its individuals. Each member will contribute something different to the team. The key thing here is that even though each member is doing something different, the team as a whole produces one end product. There are many different roles that you can take on, but ask yourself these questions:

1. Am I a doer – do I want to get on with things quickly and on my own? I
can appear bossy or extrovert.

2. Do I prefer to think about something longer? I can be considered an introvert, quiet and thoughtful.

3. Can I tell how others feel about themselves? I probably enjoy talking to people: communicating more than working alone.

Consider which type of person you are most like and then think about the roles in a team.

• Coordinator/leader: leads the team in its meetings; clarifies objectives; keeps the team moving and makes decisions.

• Thinker: collects information; researches; listens to others; considers obstacles; sees solutions and anticipates other problems.

• Go-Getter: strives for results; wants to progress the task quickly;
impatient if delays occur; motivational; questions laziness of others.

• Carer: works to develop and keep up team spirit; notices if other members are not performing as usual; strives for agreement; keen to keep everyone involved; promotes positivity.

• Worker: active member who wants to get involved with any job; team player; keen to stick to the plan; dislikes too much chatter and digression; wants to get the task completed on time or earlier.

Can I play two roles?

You very rarely fit into one category completely. For example, you may be a natural worker but with a carer’s nature who will watch out for the quieter members of the group. Or, you may feel like a thinker but then have to take on the role of leader because there is no strong leader there and you have the widest knowledge of the subject matter. So, yes, you can take on more than one role.

Once you have established each member’s role, jobs can be allocated according to their strengths. There are other strengths to consider of course.
If one member has excellent IT skills, they could be in charge of the computer based tasks. Or, if a member is very artistic and you need illustrations, they
would naturally be a good choice. These things should be brought out in the
“forming” stage.

What can we do to keep up moral?

There are few things you can do to keep team spirit up.

• Make sure you know things about each other like where you live, your musical taste, etc.
• Arrange a social night at the pub or somewhere where you all enjoy.
• Share some personal thoughts with each other if you want to. Be
careful not to be nosey though: some members may not want to be that
open.
• Accept that life is random and that members may have “off” days. Be respectful of everyone’s problems and offer help.
• As a team, you accept that everyone has strengths and weaknesses.
• Make sure every member feels free to express themselves.
• Be sure that everyone feels like a “member” of the team and no-one is left outside.

How do we maintain the momentum?

Keeping everything moving forward can be tricky, particularly since at university there are so many other things going on. But, with careful planning, momentum and team spirit can be kept up.

Communication is the key. At the first meeting, make a list of everyone’s email addresses, telephone numbers, and times when they are available for meetings. One member could take responsibility of emailing each week with a reminder of the time and place of the meeting. A central point of communication would be a useful thing to set up. Then, if someone was unable to attend a meeting, they would only have to communicate it to one person rather than several. Plus, if one member is absent, notes can be emailed to them about what they missed.
Communication is the key. At your meetings, make sure everyone knows that they will have the chance to speak and take part. There is nothing worse than sitting in a meeting that is being dominated by one or two speakers when you really want to add something important. If each meeting has a running order with each member getting a chance to take part, no-one will feel left out.

Communication is the key. Failing to listen to others is perhaps one of the best ways to lose any team spirit already created. If a member feels they are not being listened to, they will feel left out and undervalued.

Communication is the key. If you feel that you have been given an unfair amount of work to do for the team, then tell someone. This could be another member you feel close to or the established leader. Whatever you do, if you feel you are being treated unfairly, you must communicate it to the team in some way. If the work is dealt out equally at the beginning of the task, then this sort of thing should not happen.

What do I do if something goes wrong?

Teams and groups don’t always work together perfectly. Sometimes,
members forget about the fact that they are part of a machine that needs all of its elements to perform well. Here are some things that can go wrong and what you can do to remedy them.

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