You are sitting in the first class of your module for the year, reminiscing about the fantastic week you have just had at your new university. For a whole week, the university organized a series of events that you enjoyed immensely. Free food, free drinks, free games (you even won some), you have signed up to incredible clubs – you might even become the next Olympian!
Then you are brought back to earth when the tutor while going through the scheme for the year, says: “…from week three, you’ll be working in groups.” Nah, that can’t be right, perhaps you didn’t hear well, so you ask your mate by the side, ‘please what did she just say’ and he repeats what the lecturer said. At the moment it sinks in that group work is going to happen.
For some, their initial thoughts on the suggestion of group work at a higher education may range from: that sounds good to how we will be marked, to what others will be like, to hope they like me, to OMG, to I’m going to go to a different university with no group work, to I’m going to be a leader, to who will present, and more. It’s a given that most students have mixed expectations about working in a group. Some will enjoy working in one, while others not so much. However, your fear of working in groups can be negated, with success being possible. This blog is for those who hate working in groups and those who enjoy such activities – you can improve!
In this guide, the following will be briefly examined
Section 1: Getting ready for group work
Section 2: Creating the team
Section 3: Organising your group
Section 4: Building relationships and communication channels
Section 5: Assessment and feedback
Section 1: Getting ready for group work
To do well in group work, it’s paramount that you understand why groups are favoured by universities, and what you can glean from them. With more students attending university than ever, the increase in demand for university resources which the growth of students has caused has not been met by a supply of those services. Consequently, with the use of group work, a university can allocate resources to be utilized effectively; it also helps to bring the workload on tutors lower. Further, when applying for most jobs, the employer usually says that it welcomes people that are collaborative. Group work teaches the fundamental skill of collaboration. Everywhere you look, you will see companies and organisations that were born as a result of collaboration between a small group of people. In accessing this skill, you’d have to overcome the challenges that working in a group throw at you, such as managing the workload, communication & relationships and organisation. Preparing well for group work means that the members must agree to a fair share of the workload; one of the most common issues in group work is when some group members choose not to make any valuable contribution. Secondly, groups need to learn how to organise their resources – time – to deliver an excellent project. Thirdly, while every member will not like each other, it’s important that everyone gets along for the benefit of the assigned project.
Section 2 – Creating the Team
In this section, an examination of how to make sure that every team member is making contributions will take place. How groups are selected, how to get the first meeting right, and how to agree to the ground rules will also be looked at.
- How the group may be selected: dependent on the tutor, groups may be selected via a random selection, allocation by the tutor or letting the students choose each other. Random allocation of a group means that the team members might not even have spoken to each other before; with this method, the temperaments of the members will also be random. Where the tutor has allowed the group to choose itself, there’s more likelihood of each group containing at least a couple of friends and, to that extent, this might be an easier group to organise. Lastly, if the selection has occurred via the tutor using a certain criterion, like the academically curious, outward-spoken individuals, or learning styles; this group might have a more balanced mix. Understanding how your group was chosen might help you with the tactics to employ in certain stages, as the first meeting.
- Getting the First Meeting Right: the first time a student group meets [as implied earlier] might be the first time that some of the members are meeting for the first time, so it’s essential to get the ball rolling with a positive start. First, be positive. Things such as smiling, asking questions, making suggestions will go a long way to showing openness to working with your members. Secondly, the location of a meeting should enable the group to hear from each other without interruption from external forces. Thirdly, the first meeting should be getting to know each other, as you’ll be working with each other for a while, you might as well try to get along at the least.
- Agreeing to the Ground Rules: Agreeing to the guidelines or framework of behaviours & actions that will govern the group and its project is fundamental to succeeding with your project. This is when the group should start discussing what the project requires of them, assigning individual tasks, and making provisions for what happens if a member fails to complete his task. Another guideline may be attitudes – treating everyone with respect & dignity. If done well, it would be easier to fit into a culture that is diverse and inclusive in the future. Another good one is being professional and responsible. When the rules have been laid, it’s important that a member writes down the agreed guidelines and sends them out to the team.
Section 3 – Organising Your Group
This area talks about ways of making sure the group is organised to bring about the effective utilization of the group’s resources.
People are different with different things making them tick, and have different perspectives and different interpretations. As such, it will be folly for the group to jump into specific activities before first ensuring that everyone is on the same wavelength as to what the project is about and the supposed outcome of the project. To achieve this, you won’t go wrong by looking at the instructions given for the project. A good way of achieving this is to take the instructions and rephrase them into your own words. When doing so, there should be a general consensus as to what is required. If a consensus has been reached, then you and the group can move into the generation of ideas stage. Specifically, how to proceed with completing the tasks; this will birth the planning stage. Your plans should always have clear targets/milestones and deadlines – such a plan would help the group to see if they are on track.
The next part of the effective organisation should be the assigning of team roles. In a team, there might be room for a leader/implementer, resource investigator, time-keeper, completer/finisher, editor, note-taker, task manager, monitor and specialist, and more. A successful group will not always have most of these roles. Some groups can choose that each member all play the same roles at different times. Furthermore, regular meetings should be scheduled where updates are discussed. Before the next meeting, it is good practice to have an agenda as to what will be dealt with. An issue that regularly arises in group work is making decisions; thus your group may choose to use one of the various deciding methods to take decisions. Some of the methods include consensus, voting, making a pros/cons table, random selection, leader making the decisions, compromise, and more. This blog is of the belief that it’s better to choose the one that fits the weight of the decision and move on to other things.
Section 4 Relationships and Creating Communication Channels
In this part, you’ll come across how to keep your team on track in terms of relationships – getting along with one another – and harnessing the tools of communication.
- Relationships: To have the best relationships in your group, it’s important that you develop the habit of analyzing your group to see if everything is going reasonably well or, if not, what to adjust or change, as the case might be. When you interpret your group’s behaviour, it helps you to see various things like who’s demanding all the attention, who’s at the periphery of the group, are there sub-groups/cliques developing in the group, is everyone respecting each other or not. Are the ground rules still useful and being followed?
Where there’s an issue that has been unearthed concerning relationships, you could apply the technique of giving each other the chance to speak. When members are offered the chance to speak, every member should practise actively listening to each other.
- Building Communication Channels: Great communication in a group means that every member is able to speak and is heard. Acknowledging others in your group is the first step in this process. It’s a simple fact of life that no one knows it all. As such, you will need to listen to and understand other people’s messages so you can get the best for your group. Another way of effectively communicating is by keeping in touch with your members – someone might unexpectedly get ill, injured or have a personal bereavement. So it pays to keep in touch. This way, when unforeseen circumstances, including conflict, arise, they can be managed without derailing the project.
Section 5 – ASSESSMENT AND FEEDBACK
Towards the deadline of the project, you and your group should have dedicated a period or series of meetings where you will all check if you have met the demands of the project, and reflect upon your experience of group work. You could even incorporate the reflection into the project, and you can use the experience to improve future teamwork. In projects that require a presentation, it’s at this stage that the group should have selected the members that will do the presentation. You can also choose that everyone presents – everybody takes one or two sections of the project on the day of the presentation. You should also have the following information for a masterful presentation: location of the presentation, how long your group has to present, available facilities, the audience, and what is the purpose of your presentation.
On the day of your presentation, it is normal to feel nervous. However, if you have done the above, then you stand a great chance of succeeding with your project. After you have delivered the presentation, you should try to get feedback from your tutor, and, if possible, the audience. Their feedback, especially that of the tutor, will help you form your model for improvement.
Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)
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