Now that you’ve got the skills to work in a group, it’s time to get started on organising and working.
If you think of any team sport, be it netball, soccer or hockey, without rules and parameters the game would disintegrate into chaos and a free-for-all. The same goes for group work, there have to be agreed upon rules, roles and deadlines, not only in order for the work to get done but to ensure that everyone is contributing and working towards the same end result.
Things you may want to consider at your first group meeting include, but aren’t limited to:
- General group etiquette – Some ideas to consider: cell phones are put away and on silent during meetings; do not interrupt someone when they are speaking; always be respectful in your tone and manner; no screaming, shouting or temper tantrums; arrive on time for meetings.
- When to meet – This may be difficult to arrange but short-term, personal compromises may need to be made for the benefit the greater group e.g. coming to campus on a day you have no scheduled lectures, forfeiting your lunch break. You should not however miss a class in order to attend a group meeting – lecture attendance is non-negotiable.
- Where to meet – Select a place that is accessible to all members, often campus is the best and easiest solution. Also consider finding a quiet, comfortable place to meet – trying to have a group meeting in the middle of the parking lot with cars and other students passing by is not conducive to a calm and productive meeting environment.
- Keeping in contact with each other – It may not be feasible to physically meet as often as the group would like, that is what technology is for – together, agree on an additional form of communication e.g. e-mail, WhatsApp group, something that everyone has access to. Also ensure that all messages sent via the the chosen form of communication is a) sent to every member of the group and b) read / picked up by every member of the group , so there are no excuses of “I didn’t see it” or “I didn’t get it“. This can be done by applying a “read receipt” to e-mails or checking on notification status of messages.
- A realistic schedule – The best way to do this is to work backwards from the submission date, that way you can identify important milestone dates, conflicting dates etc. Once a schedule is agreed upon it is important that each member of the group commit to it. They only way you will get group buy-in regarding milestone dates is if those dates are negotiated and agreed on by all the members and not just a select few.
- Minute your meetings – This is a common practice in the working world and a good way of keeping record of: who was present / absent; what was discussed; what was agreed on; who was assigned what task etc. [Remember: if you aren’t happy with the mark your group gets and you want to appeal the decision you will need evidence to back your argument, minutes of your meetings may hold information and proof to support your request.] Appoint one member of the group as the “scribe”, it is this persons responsibility to accurately note any decisions, task allocation etc. made during the meeting, to write out / type out the notes and distribute them to all members of the group within a reasonable amount of time i.e. 2 – 3 days after the meeting.
Making the Most of Meetings
Meetings need to have structure in order for them to be productive, without a pre-set list of goals or topics for discussion, a meeting can easily degenerate into a conversation about next week’s campus talent show and the new lecturer’s hair colour.
- Either during the first few minutes of the meeting or else a day or two before the meeting (via e-mail or WhatsApp) agree on items for your agenda – what needs to be discussed, what feedback needs to be given etc.
- Use the agenda to keep the group focused during the meeting – when people start going off on a tangent, you waste time, others will lose interest and your meeting becomes unproductive.
- End your meetings by confirming that everyone knows what is expected of them and what needs to be done / completed / ready for review by the next meeting. Be sure that your group scribe notes all this down and circulates the minutes timeously, so that there can be no comebacks of “I didn’t know what I was supposed to do“, “That isn’t what I was tasked with“, at the next meeting.
- Agree on the date, time and venue of the next meeting.
Appointing Roles & Organising the Work
The appointment of roles and organisation of work can make or break a group. This is where your communication and listening skills really need to come into play and where compromises, for the greater good, may need to be made.
Dividing up the work –
It is important to know a little about the members of your group, particularly in terms of their strengths and weaknesses, before you decide on who will be doing what; you don’t want to appoint the final verbal presentation of your assessment to someone who has a phobia of speaking in public.
Be sure to include everyone in on discussions, decisions and work allocation. People are more co-operative, productive and willing to take responsibility, if they have been included in the groundwork that led to the decision.
Everyone should be given a chance to speak and “pitch” for specific jobs (if the assessment brief is that way inclined), listen to what they have to say and keep the group agenda, not your agenda, in mind when making final decisions – what is best for the group?
Group Roles –
The way in which the work has been divided may automatically assign people to particular roles, or you may need to assign specific roles over and above the work that has been assigned.
Some common group roles include:
- The Leader – leads discussions using open-ended questions; they facilitate discussions by clarifying and summarising group comments and decisions; they guide conversations, keeping them on track and positive; they check for consensus and / or questions from group members.
- The Organiser – schedules and communicates meeting dates, times and venues; ensures that meetings follow an agenda; records and distributes notes of the meeting (incl. important items that were discussed, decisions that were made, tasks that were allocated); monitors the project timeline and keeps the project on track.
- The Editor/s – compiles the final piece of work from parts received from different members of the group; ensures that the final product flows and is consistent; edits completed work (i.e. spell check, grammar, formatting etc.)
- The Presenter/s – if applicable: works with the group members to compile a cohesive and articulate presentation; presents the presentation in class.
Characteristics of an Effective Group
- Everyone understands and acknowledges that the assessment cannot be completed without the contribution and co-operation of all the members.
- All members are given the opportunity to share their ideas and express themselves. They are listened to carefully and without interruption, and useful points are acknowledged.
- Differences or issues are dealt with directly with the person or people involved. It is up to the group to identify what the problem/s is, everyone is given the opportunity to give input, and together the group come to a decision that makes sense to everyone.
- The group recognizes hard work and encourages each of the members to take responsibility for their tasks and / or roles. There is a shared sense of pride responsibility.
In the next post we will be looking at how to overcome the challenges of working in a group, as well as how to handle group conflict.
Effective Group Work. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/studyadvice/StudyResources/Seminars/sta-groupwork.aspx [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]
Sarkisian, E. (n.d.). Working In Groups: A Note to Faculty and a Quick Guide for Students. Retrieved from: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.topic58474/wigintro.html [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]
Tips for Working in Groups. (2008). Retrieved from: http://www.speaking.pitt.edu/student/groups/smallgrouptips.html [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]
Working Effectively in Groups. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://uwaterloo.ca/student-success/sites/ca.student-success/files/uploads/files/TipSheet_GroupWork_0.pdf [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]