“Why are they making us work in groups?”
“She doesn’t do her share of the work”
“Why doesn’t he want to get the best grade possible?”
“I hate group-work”
Unfortunately these are common feelings towards group work but it doesn’t have to be a negative experience and with the right mind set, group-work can work.
When working with other students from all over the world who have all sorts of different skills and attributes it can be tricky, there’s no denying that. However, what you might not realise (or want to realise, as the case may be) is that you will be developing some invaluable skills for your future career. Group-work can help you develop skills in team work, communication, problem solving and leadership, all of which most employers would seek in a candidate. I understand though that this is sometimes difficult to think about when you have a deadline fast approaching and your group isn’t working the way you would like. So how else can I convince you of the benefits?
Another key benefit of group-work is the effect it can have on your learning; for example, subject matter can often be understood or reinforced more when students work together. This can happen when group discussions occur around a topic and the subsequent assignment and students can often learn from each other and fill in gaps in knowledge from their peers. Another benefit for learning, if you are willing to accept it, is peer feedback, as often students can gain quick and potentially highly useful feedback around aspects such as their writing style or presentation skills etc., which can be highly valuable for the next assignment that comes your way.
Group-work can also be a good way to get to know how you naturally behave when working with other people. For example, some students will tend to take on more of a leader type role, whereas others may prefer to be an observer or a mediator. Reflecting on your performance during group work is a good way to identify your strengths and also where you might need improvement to work as effectively as possible with other people in future.
Ok, so that’s my effort to try and convince you of the benefits of group-work, but what you might also want to know is how you can actually make group-work work in practice. So let’s look at a few tips around how you might be able to do this.
In your first meeting, set your group ground rules. This will take a bit of confidence to approach but if you can do this in the first meeting it could make a difference to how the group works overall. For example, think about setting rules around communication, attending meetings, meeting deadlines, supporting each other as well as the behaviour you will expect each group member to demonstrate when working together.
Come up with a structure of how you will approach the task. Include the tasks for each group member, ensuring that it is equal. Include the deadlines of when you will expect each group member to finish their assigned task. Nominate one or two members to organise the final draft of the assignment (if you are working an assessed piece of writing) to ensure consistency. If you are doing a presentation as part of your group-work, organise when you will all be able to practise this.
Think about strategies you can use to manage any conflict that might arise in the group (see this advice from The University of Manchester: Resolving Conflict). Managing conflict effectively will help you to work together better so if conflicts arise early on, it is a good idea to have some strategies in place to deal with it.
Be open to listening and learning from your fellow group members. Students have different skills and this can often be useful in completing your task. For example, if one group member is better at presenting than writing or better at organising than presenting, think about what tasks would suit them best. Try to support each other’s strengths, rather than focusing on weaknesses.