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Effective group work

Expert guidance from Study Advice at the University of Reading


Working in groups is not only a popular form of assessment at University but may be something you decide to do, to support your learning. It can be an effective way to tackle a problem, learn from each other and achieve more than you could alone. But working in a group can be challenging – with different personalities to juggle and different ways of working to consider. It may not always be easy to arrange to meet face to face, so you may have the additional challenge of holding meetings remotely and sharing work online.

Follow our tips below on effective group work in a virtual environment, which has been compiled by our Online Course Team.

Managing different personalities

Your group will consist of different personalities, skills, and experience. Be mindful and honest with your strengths and weaknesses. Decide whether you want to capitalise on your strengths or work on weaknesses and let your group know. It could be that you want to work on a weakness, for example, presenting. There could be someone in your group who is confident with this skill who can help and support you in building yours.

There may be times when personalities clash or when some members are putting in more effort than others. Don’t make it personal and don’t take it personally. Frustration can easily start to build, particularly when a deadline is looming. Practise openness, diplomacy, and empathy, as you may not know what’s happening in someone’s personal life. Take a step back to focus on a solution, rather than the problem and remain professional. Recognising and praising people’s efforts, big and small, will really help with your group’s confidence and motivation, especially if the dynamic is strained.

Set out clear expectations

When working with others, ensure everyone’s responsibilities and deadlines are explicit. It’s also important to check with one another that you have a shared understanding of the task and able to do your part.

If you’re struggling with your task, let the others in your group know. You’re working together towards a shared goal, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to help one another. Make sure you check-in with each other regularly.

When someone messages you, try to respond as quickly as possible. It’s good practice to remember that they may not be able to proceed with their work if they need something from you.

Online meeting tools

There are several tools you can choose from for group work and discussions. Start with Blackboard Collaborate, or video conferencing tools such and Microsoft Teams.  Both of these are supported by the University. See which ones work best for you and your group’s needs. You might want to suggest you use your cameras and microphones (rather than chat functions) to aid more active discussion.  

Collaboration tools

Consider using a digital project board to manage tasks. Everyone in your group will be able to access and can view the board in real-time. It’s a great way to share the workload and responsibility. At a glance, you’ll be able to see who is responsible for which task. You can add details such as: what you need to do, when you need to do it by, and the progress of each task.


Be sure to check the features, as some will be capped and the number of users may be limited: Planner (free with your Office 365 package). 

Working in real-time

Digital whiteboards are useful when you’re working synchronously. These collaborative and interactive boards have several functions and can be used for presenting, brainstorming or reviewing ideas. You can also use video conferencing on some. Microsoft Whiteboard

Document collaboration

These documents work in the same way as your typical Word or Excel document, but they allow everyone to access a single file to view, edit, and work on at the same time. Changes are recorded so you can easily track these. These are great tools for working collaboratively, effectively, and efficiently; especially if you’re writing a paper or updating data with several other authors. Microsoft Office 365 (free with your Office 365 package) has a tool which you can use which is supported by the University, 

A number of these tools can be integrated using add-on features. Take time to experiment with these and start building a repertoire of skills that will help you work collaboratively.

For more digital tools and information, you can download our handy A-Z list of tools and technologies.