Female student smiling during group work discussion

Working in groups

Understanding the strengths of your team and teammates lets you work effectively and efficiently to achieve your best results

So you've all met up for your first meeting to tackle your assignment brief. To start building a team you'll need to think about how your team members fit together in a complementary, resourceful and constructive way. Learning style preferences are a useful starting point, and there are a number of models to choose from.

If you've not had your first meeting yet, find out more about starting team work.

Activist/Reflector/Pragmatist/Theorist model

This is a simplified adaption of the model proposed by Honey & Mumford in their 1992 Manual of Learning Styles.

 

Style Style characteristics
Activist Acts first, asks questions later. Open to new experiences. Adaptable. Less comfortable working alone or to detailed instruction. Can be impatient with detailed or lengthy rationale/explanation.
Reflector Cautious observation precedes any action. Good at data collection/ analysis and ‘big picture’ conclusions. Tendency to miss deadlines. Can be less adaptable in faster changing situations. Tend to dislike being pushed to conclusions.
Pragmatist Excited when applying theory and technique to a challenge. Putting ideas to work comes naturally but needs to see the point and benefit of putting such ideas to work. Can find others’ lack of focus irritating.
Theorist Relishes logic and rationale, and objectivity and evidence-based thinking. Can find lack of structure and clarity uncomfortable. Discussing feelings is not a strength.

 

These descriptions are oversimplifications. We are combinations of these style preferences (and probably of other style-types as well). One style preference may tend to dominate in certain contexts, but this can vary in different situations and at different times. As we gain experience, we also tend to become more ‘multi-modal’ in style. This means that although we might have a default style preference, we can develop adaptability and ‘agility’ by using different learning styles. To be able to consciously mix and match styles and strategies to different contexts is a treasured asset to acquire.

You can use this model as a starting point to identify and discuss what sort of overall style profile you and your team members appear to have. To do this, each team member ranks themselves against each style characteristic summarised above using the following criteria. 
 

Criterion Rank value
"I am mostly like this" 4
"I am often like this" 3
"I am sometimes like this" 2
"I am rarely like this" 1

You can award yourself the same rank value for more than one style preference as you probably already have some multi-modality. 

Working examples

Some worked examples of this are shown below. 

Nikhil's rank values

  • Activist - 1
  • Reflector - 2
  • Pragmatist - 4
  • Theorist - 4

So Nikhil sees himself mostly with Pragmatist/Theorist characteristics, sometimes with Reflector characteristics and rarely with Activist characteristics.

Susize's rank values

  • Activist - 4
  • Reflector - 1
  • Pragmatist - 2
  • Theorist - 1

Suzie on the other hand sees herself with mostly Activist characteristics, sometimes with Pragmatist characteristics, and rarely with Reflector or Theorist characteristics.

Remember there is no right or wrong, or better or worse outcome to this. It is about open and honest self-appraisal. It will also help you to have those all important first meeting agenda conversations.

Team profile

Once you have all done this individually, you can use this information to start to build a team profile. To do this you need bring all of your profiles together. This table in an example: 

 

Name Activist Reflector Pragmatist Theorist
Nikhil 1 2 4 4
Suzie 4 1 2 1
Zahraa 1 3 1 4
Sam 1 2 2 3
'3's and '4s' 1 1 1 3

 

To figure out where the strengths and possible gaps in capability in the team lie, add up the number of times a '4' or a '3' occurs in each column (as above).

This example shows that there is capability across the styles and a combined tendency towards the Theorist style. A possible consequence of this is that the practicalities of delivering your assignment might be problematic. The fact that you have identified this right at the beginning of your project means you can plan for this and manage the potential issue effectively as a team. It is only a problem if you do not know it exists, or if you ignore it or don't plan for it. 

Now, you've worked together as a group on a task that will contribute directly to your project outcome. You know each other better and have already started to problem-solve and to think constructively about solutions to challenges.

References

Honey, P., & Mumford, A. (1992). The Manual of Learning Styles. Maidenhead: Peter Honey.

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