Change of Preference

Working in groups

Effective teamwork

Working in groups is a fact of life. Whether it is during VCE, at university, in the workplace or in your social life working effectively in groups can mean the difference between failure and success.

Why work in groups?

Students often need to work in groups. While working effectively with others can be very productive and satisfying, it can also be very challenging.

Group work helps you gain experience and understanding about how tasks are often undertaken in the workplace. Successfully completing a group assignment usually means you have acquired many essential skills, particularly communication, analytical and interpersonal, which are highly valued by employers. The ability to listen, question, persuade, respect others' opinions, help, share and participate is of lifelong value.

Working with others also allows assignments to be broken into tasks and the workload to be distributed evenly. By working together, students can bounce ideas off each other and learn from each other. Members contribute different skills, which means the group can achieve more than individual members could on their own.

What makes a group effective?

For groups to be effective, members need to be able to work together to complete a task. Members may need to communicate in a number of ways: face-to-face, via phone or  email or other electronic communication.

When groups are ineffective it is often because they lack focus. The dynamics of the group may be poor, allowing some people to dominate while others contribute little. Where communication is poor, things don't get done. Time spent unproductively can be very destructive and students can feel angry and disillusioned.

Get to know your group

You may or may not have an opportunity to select your group. If you don't know other members, spend some time getting to know each other. Invite members to talk about themselves and exchange addresses; you may be working with students with a diversity of backgrounds and interests. Build a good working relationship.

Establish guidelines

It is important to establish an agreed set of ground rules for the way everyone behaves and interacts as a group. This might include respecting what people say, not talking behind their backs and encouraging open discussion.

Clarify assignment requirements

Working on problems that are too general, not well defined or too large can be difficult. Clarify and agree on the purpose of the project. Then break it down into sub-tasks. Identify what parts can be done independently and what parts are interdependent. You should have an agreed approach in terms of what steps are to be taken and a time line to show when tasks should be done.

Identify skills

A good group will capitalise on the strength of each member. Members of effective groups take on different roles to make sure the team runs smoothly and the goals of the group are achieved. Someone should be delegated to take on a leadership role and be responsible for guiding the process.

It is important to communicate about how to equitably allocate who does what in the group. The group might sort out roles according to members' strengths, skills and preferences. Decide on specific tasks and allocate these to individuals, remember to coordinate interdependent tasks.

Implement the plan

Once you've sorted out the assignment and tasks, you need to agree on how often you should meet. Be sure it's frequent to maintain momentum, although exactly what this means depends on the scale and nature of the task. The group also has to decide on the best way to meet. While face-to-face meetings are generally the most productive, you are likely to find yourself using email, the phone or other means to correspond.

Resolving problems

Working in groups can be difficult. Interpersonal issues can arise. Students cannot always choose whom they work with and may be accustomed to working in a competitive rather than a cooperative learning environment.

A member of the team is not contributing

If a member does not do the agreed work, you might need to refer to your ground rules. Try to find out why they are not being productive. Some people are very shy and need positive encouragement. They may be stuck and require some help and direction. Some students may find certain tasks very challenging, so identify each other's strengths and utilise them in the group. It could be that if some members do not have the same level of motivation you may need to contact your teacher.

There is conflict in the group

Groups often have difficulty in acknowledging and resolving conflict. However, using conflict effectively can create debate and lead to a deeper understanding of issues. Do not mistake legitimate criticism for personal attack.

The group consists of people very different to you

It may be necessary to negotiate diversity in your group and accommodate individual work habits. Share information about your work styles. Remember that diversity helps to make a team strong and flexible.

A member of the group dominates

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.

Students working together


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