Collaborative work is a skill you need to develop and will be used throughout your career. So, how do you work effectively in groups?
During your studies you will be involved in group work – either in the form of study groups or as part of assessment in your courses. There are many benefits to working in groups but you do need to take the time to consider how your group will operate. This includes how to communicate, meeting times, meeting procedures, group member roles and expectations. Some lecturers will ask your group to complete a group agreement or contract addressing these aspects.
Benefits of group work
Teamwork is an essential workplace skill and learning how to get on with people with different backgrounds, belief systems, personality types and work routines is important for your future career. Every group you are involved in will help you develop the essential collaboration skills you will need when in the workplace. Group members typically have different strengths and there will be many opportunities to learn from each other. Learning is also a social activity and the more you discuss ideas and what’s going on with other students, the more your understanding will develop.
"You will come out stronger." Susan Du, Student
Tips for working in groups
In this short video a Lincoln University postgraduate student, Susan Du, provides some practical tips on how to work effectively in groups.
“The first initial meeting I guess is just… everyone could hang out for lunch or a sandwich or coffee. Just talk about yourself...We introduce ourselves and talk about something funny that happened in the past” Susan Du
Being social with each other initially will help you work better together.
“[After getting to know each other] the second thing is we talk about what we cannot put up with during this group assignment. What’s your bottom line? So for me it is [being] on time, always be there, responsive. Like, if we have a group email, we expect everyone to reply within 24 hours or 48 hours.” Susan Du
It is helpful to set mutually agreed ground rules and goals that guide individual and group behaviour. Following group rules will make meetings run smoothly, prevent problems from getting out of hand and allow some control if some group members turn out to be difficult.
Some common ground rules to consider are around:
- Expected meeting days/times
- What to do if you cannot make a meeting - if you really can’t make it, you need to let the others know.
- No interrupting while someone is speaking
- No putting others down – criticise the ideas, not the person
- Everyone having the opportunity to speak
- Agendas for meetings
- Communication method – eg Facebook/Messenger group
- Expected speed of communication replies – eg within 24 hours
- Quality of individual work - eg spelling and grammar check
- Disciplinary action procedures – what to do if a group member is not pulling their weight.
“A lot of people come into meetings without an agenda, they just chat. So, I suggest for every group meeting, set up an email that covers four things or five things you are going to go through and tell everyone how long this group meeting will be.”
- Assign tasks to group members. Consider each person’s strengths. For example, if someone has an eye for detail ask them to proofread and/or check the referencing format is correct.
- Set progress target dates and use regular meetings to check on each other’s progress. This helps everyone stick to agreed timeframes so no one falls behind.
- Allow your group enough time to complete final revisions to written work before the due date.
- If you are submitting a group assessment, make sure you assign someone the role of uploading the submission.
“Make sure you finalise it a week before the due date. There are going to be emergencies, there are going to be the parts that you need to rewrite. There are going to be people who are sick, who are late, who are not adequate.” Susan Du, Student
“Get started early, as life gets in the way.” Arabella Dudfield, Student
You take ownership by contributing equitably to group work and not leaving heavier workloads to other group members. Consider what your strengths are and how you can add value to the group assessment. Your lecturer will expect the full engagement of all group members throughout the assessment, so participate fully in group discussions.
Taking initiative does not mean you have to take the lead all the time. Even if you feel you are not a natural leader, you can still take initiative in little ways. For example, you might suggest a regular meeting day/time, or you might think of an efficient method of group communication, such as Messenger.
Inevitably when a group of people are working together there are difficulties and disagreements along the way, that’s life. Try to be respectful of differences of opinion and be open to differences of approach. Misunderstandings may happen. If faced with a problem, it can help to:
- Agree on and identify the cause of a problem
- Focus on the group, not the individual (eg “We have a problem, what can we do about it?”)
- Focus on the problem, not the person (eg “If we don’t let everyone have their turn to speak, we might miss out on some good ideas” rather than “You keep interrupting”)
- Express your feelings before they get out of hand (eg “I’m worried about…” or “I’m struggling to understand …”)
Group work for assessment
Group work for assessment requires you to use and demonstrate teamwork skills such as collaboration, negotiation and compromise – skills that will help make you work-ready. However, it takes time to get used to working in a group and to build a relationship with your group members. Agreeing on grade expectations at the outset can help.
Lecturers expect all group members to participate equitably and work together to produce a coherent submission. You are individually responsible for knowing how to contribute fairly to group projects and giving appropriate credit to team members for their contribution.
Group work might involve preparing a written document, a presentation, a lab report or another output. As with any assessment, read your group work instructions carefully to identify what is required of your group, and of your contributions individually. There may be individual components of the assessment that you need to submit.
Even if you do not have group work in your courses you can still get the benefits of working in a group by setting up your own study group for revising course material. If you are an undergraduate, student-led PASS sessions are provided for you for some courses and are a fun way to revise course material in informal groups.
Some benefits of organising your own study groups are:
- Reinforcing knowledge of basic concepts by explaining them to others
- Getting explanations from a student perspective
- Clarifying what you do and do not understand
- Getting a different perspective of things by discussing them with others
- Gaining further motivation from the group energy
- Getting to know others
- Learning study strategies other students use to help them do better
- Checking where you are at compared to others
- Having fun while learning.