Sometimes you are required to complete assignments as a group. While this can be stimulating and even fun, and the final assignment can be enhanced by different people’s skills and knowledge, group work can also sometimes be challenging. People have different personalities and it can sometimes be difficult to ensure everyone gets along, everyone’s voice is heard, and people’s skills and strengths are used most effectively.
Learning how to work together is an important part of your academic and professional life, so it makes sense to put effort into making the process as rewarding and hassle-free as possible.
Here are some tips to help make group work easier and more effective:
Get to know each other
Before you begin working together, it is a good idea to get together for an informal meeting in order to get know each other.
- What is everyone’s background?
- Is English their first language?
- Do they have academic or professional experience in the field you are studying?
- What do people think are their strengths and weaknesses?
Work out times to meet that suits everyone. If you are distance students and this is not possible, establish a system of communication that suits everyone (e.g., a new group in a common social media platform, group emails, Google docs etc.)
It might be appropriate to decide on a group leader or someone to record the discussion and decisions made in each meeting. A group leader can be useful for helping the group focused and making sure everyone is participating. A group leader can also be useful if disagreement or conflict arises. Someone recording discussion can be helpful so everyone understands what has been decided and who is doing what.
Understand your assignment and set a timeline for completion
It is a good idea to make sure everyone understands the assignment question, the assignment command words, the assignment format/structure that is required, and you are all in agreement about direction and pace. Your due date will largely determine the pace of your group work. You also need to consider other academic and personal commitments. Decide if, and how often, you need to meet or communicate each week. Make sure you leave enough to time for revision and feedback on individual contributions to the group work.
Divide and assign workload
- Be realistic about workload and pace. There is no point in setting unrealistic goals within unachievable timeframes.
- It is also important to make sure that work is fairly divided and everyone is ok with the division of labour.
- Ideally, you want to consider people’s strengths and skills and match these with tasks.
- Consider how to make group members accountable. This might be where a team leader is useful to get in touch with the slower group members. Perhaps work could be assigned in pairs so there is accountability to your group partner as well as the group as a whole.
Edit, edit, edit
- It cannot be emphasised enough how important it is to revise your assignment before final submission. Often proofreading and editing means a significant increase in grade.
- Consider continuity of voice across your assignment. Does it read like several people have written different parts or is it coherent?
- Be kind to students whose first language is not English, or whose strength is not written communication. Take care not to confuse superficial grammar mistakes with lack of knowledge of content.
- You might want to consider submission to the pre-reading service for an objective opinion on structure, focus, style, and presentation.
Addressing issues and conflict
Unfortunately, sometimes issues and conflicts arise. Learning how to work as part of a team is an important life skill, and often this is why lecturers set group work. It is important to identify the cause of the issue or conflict and take steps to address the issue sooner rather than later. You are working to a deadline, and conflict is energy and time away from the best possible assignment.
- Is someone not pulling their weight, or meeting agreed deadlines or goals? It might be worthwhile finding out if they have other commitments that are interfering. Is their workload more than expected? Do they feel their voice is not being heard? Does some of the work need to be assigned to someone else or do they need help? Do they understand what they need to do? Is there a cultural difference or issue that is affecting their ability to complete their task? A group meeting, or a meeting with just the group leader, to discuss grievances and clear the air, may help.
- Do certain personalities in the group clash? Sometimes it might be necessary to remind everyone of the importance of being respectful and polite. If possible, it might be necessary to limit contact between the conflicting parties.
- It is ok to send a private message or have a quiet word with someone you suspect is unhappy. It might be they just want to talk or they might have a specific issue that can be addressed relatively simply before the group falls behind in their workload.
- Take care, however, to avoid groupthink, which is where difference of opinion is supressed in order to avoid conflict and maintain harmony. An advantage of group work is that it encourages different perspectives so it is important that all group members feel safe and comfortable expressing their opinions. It might be necessary to gently remind group members of the importance of respect and that no idea is a bad idea!
- As a group, accept that sometimes not all group members will be completely happy with group decisions. Voting on important decisions may mean resentment from people supporting the option not chosen. Unfortunately, this is a reality of life- we can’t always have things exactly how we want them. Make sure, however, that before a decision is made, all options and alternatives are thoroughly discussed and decisions made are reasoned rather than based on emotion or a feeling.
- Occasionally, for whatever reason, a student does not engage at all with group work. As a last resort, you may need to contact your lecturer about a group member’s lack of contribution. If this is the case, make sure you have a clear record of meetings/communications, and missed deadlines or commitments.