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Group work

Why work in groups?

By working in groups, you gain experience and understanding about how tasks are often undertaken in the workplace. The successful completion of a group assignment usually means that you have acquired many very important skills, particularly communication, analytical and interpersonal skills. These are highly valued by employers. The capacity to listen, question, persuade, respect the opinions of others, help, share and participate is of lifelong value.

What makes an effective group?

Working with others allows assignments to be broken into tasks and the workload to be distributed evenly. By working together, students are able to bounce ideas off each other and learn from each other.

Successful group work occurs when members work collaboratively to: 

  • focus on the task
  • communicate regularly
  • meet deadlines.

At times working in groups can be challenging, especially if your group lacks focus or some members of the team do not pull their weight. However, as these challenges also occur in the workplace, your group work experience is a great opportunity for you to develop skills in identifying and dealing with issues that may arise from difficult group dynamics.

Setting up your group

You don't always know who will be in your group. It may be students from interstate, overseas, from diverse backgrounds or with different interests. If you have not previously met the other members of the group, spend some time getting to know each other to work out what skills and experience you can all bring to the group.

Establish guidelines

  • Have an agreed purpose and set achievable goals.
  • Allocate who does what in the group.
  • Agree on how frequently you should meet.
  • Determine what is the most effective means to communicate.
  • Establish an agreed set of protocols or ground rules for behaviour.

Clarify assignment requirements

  • Break the assignment into specific tasks and sub-tasks.
  • Identify tasks that can be done independently and tasks to be completed as a group.
  • Develop a time line to show when tasks need to be completed.

Identify skills

  • Sort out roles according to members' strengths, academic skills, preferred way of working.
  • Appoint someone to coordinate the group to keep communication going and stay focused.

Stay Focused

  • Maintain momentum through frequent contact.
  • Respect the time commitments of the group by making sure you meet deadlines.
  • Keep checking the group  goals to make sure you are on track.
  • Try to work through problems as early as possible.

Resolving problems

Poor group dynamics can result in low marks. Groups who do not work cooperatively or collaboratively together are likely to produce work that is disjointed, inconsistent and underdeveloped. Therefore, it is important to identify factors that may be preventing your group from working well together and develop a strategy to deal with it.

A group member is not contributing

Some people may find certain tasks very challenging so a good place to start is by gently identifying what might be causing the problem.  Some people are very shy and need positive encouragement.  Think about their strengths and give them different tasks they might be able to carry out or pair them with someone who may be able to provide support.

Conflict within the group

Conflict can arise through misinterpreting critical analysis as personal attack. Group members will bring different perspectives to the research you carry out, so it is important to ensure that people feel comfortable raising alternative viewpoints. Diversity helps to make a team strong and flexible. It is important to share information about the way you prefer to work or any commitments you have which may prevent you from attending meetings.

A group member is dominating the group

If some group members talk too much, suggest setting time limits in order to give each member a chance to speak. If a member of the group is dominating, you can politely point out that time is limited and refer to the ground rules.

Working in groups online

Most units that require you to work in a group will have an online discussion board set up for you in CloudDeakin so you can post messages to others in your group. This may include a brief introductory activity to start you working as a group. Keep your messages short. Two or three paragraphs is about as much as anyone can effectively digest when reading online.

Page custodian: Division of Student Life
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