Student group discussing project in University library

Working in groups

Working with other people can present new challenges – get the most out of your group work

Whatever your subject, you could be set assignments that require you to work in groups. One reason for this is that employers often look for effective team members.

This page gives an overview of group work and describes how groups might work, how this feels, and how effective this a team is. We then highlight potential pitfalls when moving from a group to a team, and what you can do to avoid them from the start. These suggestions can be revisited if problems arise later. To conclude, we show how you could set up your group to be a successful team.

Overview

Working closely with others is not always easy. It takes a while for a group to become a team capable of effectively exploring new research and reaching new grades. It is always worth being uncritical of others at the outset. This ensures a base of social responsibility where punctuality, tact and respect naturally follow.

Even if you are confident in a group, it is worth noting one dominant individual who assumes leadership can create tension and block the flow of ideas from the others. The individual contributions, if managed well in the group, are what can make the opportunities of team-based research greater than from independent study. The social interaction skills of collaboration need to be adapted to your specific group. The skill of moving between independent and interdependent research is an essential part of teamwork which a tutor may consider part of the marking criteria.

Group types and their effects

 

Description How it feels What it produces
You are with a group of your friends and are having a great time Comfortable Nothing (well, nothing academic!)
You are part of a group that cannot identify its purpose and cannot work out a way forward Confusing Very little
You are with a group of people with a clear direction but there is no agreement about how to move forward Frustrating Very little
You are in a group of people with a clear direction and with collective ‘ownership’ of plans to get there Focused but with a sense that you can all support each other more A good outcome
Your group takes shared ownership of plans, has mutual interdependence and shared concern for each other's contributions  Focused, supported and with a desire to work with this team again An excellent outcome with new personal skills and abilities developed

 

These scenarios are based on Katzenbach and Smith’s ‘typology’ of group and team characteristics. They set good goals for improving social skills to help you to make a group of friends and/or strangers into a team.  

Pitfalls and setting up a group

The psychology of group decision making can be as complex as the individual personalities involved. Overcoming personality differences and negative feelings in the move towards a common goal is a chance to open up lines of communication, innovation and creativity.

The information below is adapted from: Ramsay, Maier and Price (2010). Study skills for Business and Management Students. Harlow: Pearson.

Pitfalls when moving from a group to a team

There are four questions you should ask:

  • Are you committed?
  • Are the objectives clear?
  • Have you planned all the tasks and subtasks needed?
  • Are you all happy with the roles you have for the common goal?

Problems can also be caused by language difficulties and students not seeming to pull their weight in a group. Therefore, it is essential to establish a positive first meeting with some basic rules.

Setting up a Group

  1. Each group member introduces themselves and summarises what they may bring to the team as regards their learning and study role.
  2. Everyone agrees a set of ground rules such as the right to devils advocacy before any final decision is reached, punctuality, majority voting in conflict resolution, casting vote of chairman/woman.
  3. Read and discuss the assignment brief together.
  4. Divide the brief into sub tasks.
  5. Discuss and agree roles.
  6. Nominate a leader for the team who will keep notes on meetings, and manage communication between members.
  7. To plan your actions, you should:
    • Allocate team members to various tasks
    • Agree to support each other
    • Draw up time plan and deadlines for sub tasks
    • Agree a social media platform for communication
    • Confirm next meeting

Download our introducing team work revision sheet

Download this page as a PDF for your team work revision notes.

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