Top three tips for successful group work

Author
Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
Posted
January, 2017

Group work is not only a fun and effective way to learn - it also allows you to develop key transferable skills such as teamwork, organisation, communication, leadership and problem solving

As an increasingly significant part of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, it's a great opportunity to analyse, discuss and explore ideas with fellow students.

This can be extremely beneficial to both your academic performance and long-term personal development, particularly as the ability to work well with others is a key requirement for many graduate jobs.

Follow these tips to help ensure that your assignment results in success…

Set clear goals

At the start of any team project, you should spend your first meeting agreeing on specific targets and setting some ground rules.

Sonia Hood, study adviser at the University of Reading, recommends that you decide how often you'll meet, how you'll communicate with each other and how the group will be led. 'This way, everyone is clear about what is expected of them,' she explains.

You should also ensure that all team members have a shared understanding of the project. 'Discuss how you can best divide the task up to work to the advantage of everyone within the group,' says Sonia.

Ensure everyone contributes

All members of the group should strive to create a supportive atmosphere that allows everyone to feel comfortable expressing their thoughts without the threat of being dismissed, ridiculed or ignored.

While some people are naturally confident in group work situations, others may initially find putting their points forward challenging.

'You may need to ask some quieter individuals directly if they have anything to add,' Sonia advises. 'The group will benefit from hearing everyone's opinion and others may have valuable insight that you have not considered.'

Not everyone strives to be a leader, or is able to quickly generate ideas. Indeed, the best teams have a balanced mix of individuals whose contributions complement one another. The University of Kent identifies seven roles that people can play in group meetings:

  • Compromiser - Attempts to maintain harmony and rapport among all team members by encouraging others, and recognising and resolving any differences of opinion.
  • Encourager - Energises the team through humour or enthusiasm, suggesting ideas and confronting any problems.
  • Evaluator - Offers critical analysis of all options before coming to an informed decision.
  • Ideas person - Suggests original and potentially radical new ways to organise the task or solve problems.
  • Leader - Ensures the group remains on-task, coordinating resources, assigning tasks and driving members to achieve a positive end result.
  • Recorder - Keeps the group focused and organised through timekeeping and note-taking, ensuring that every member understands their individual responsibilities.
  • Summariser - Clarifies objectives and elaborates on others' ideas, wrapping up the group's discussion and conclusions.

Avoid negativity

Unless you want to seriously jeopardise your chances of success, some behaviours should be avoided at all costs. You'll find that your task can quickly go off the rails if even just one participant:

  • becomes overly aggressive
  • displays unhappiness with any decisions made
  • disrespects others and criticises their ideas without suggesting alternatives
  • distracts focus by acting the clown
  • fails to contribute
  • listens too little and interrupts others when they're talking
  • talks too much and dominates the discussion.

While disagreements are inevitable, it's important not to make things personal. 'Try to ensure that discussion and disagreements are focused on the task in hand,' Sonia advises.

'If you have an issue with the level of commitment of certain members, speak to them individually and check there's not something else going on that they may need your support with.'

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