Working in groups is increasingly popular as a form of assessment. However, it can be stressful: not everyone works in the same way or at the same pace, and you may need to find ways to negotiate these issues.
This guide offers research-informed advice on how to help everyone in your group work together effectively, keeping focused and on track.
When you start any group assignment or project it is a good idea to agree on some basic organisation and how the group will work and communicate together.
A key aspect of good group organisation is starting and finishing with everyone knowing what they are expected to do.
Good group work depends on good listening skills. Do you take in what others are saying? Do you pay attention to their feelings? Do you switch off when you are bored or dislike the speaker?
Try these effective listening strategies:
|Tip: Let the speaker know you are listening and understanding - give encouraging signals like smiling or nodding|
Speak in the group - not at them.
People who speak at a group leave no space for response and tend to dominate. People who speak in a group consider the other members. So:
Most communication is non-verbal: Pay attention to people's body language as this can reveal a lot about how they feel about the group. Are they looking distracted? Have they crossed their arms and are they looking defensive? Do they look upset or confused? Why might this be?
It doesn't take much to stop people engaging in a group - if they suggest something and get knocked back, they may just withdraw. Think about how you would feel if someone criticised your ideas, and keep this in mind when giving feedback.
Disagreement and differing views isn't always bad - it can lead to creative ideas - but conflict is harmful to the group when it becomes personal and aggressive.
Try to use language which doesn't single out people and blame them, but instead makes it clear that you are offering your own feelings and thoughts. Rather than, "You're annoying and always speaking…" instead, "I am hurt because I don't think the group listens to my ideas."
If the group really can't agree on something, discuss the pros and cons of the idea, then have a vote and go with the majority decision.
Taking part in a group doesn't just mean speaking a lot or always offering suggestions. Being a good group member is about being committed to the group and making a contribution that plays to your strengths. For a group to work well it takes a variety of people each playing different roles. Play to your strengths - find something you can contribute. For example, if you don't feel confident doing presentations, instead volunteer to produce the handouts.
What can you do to help the group succeed?
We indicate to other people how well we are listening through our verbal and non-verbal communication. We can use these responses to encourage other members of the group when they are speaking. For example, through:
Help the discussion to flow
It is quite easy to sabotage a group, often unintentionally, through any of the following:
Help all group members to feel involved. If someone is not participating, try asking their opinion or seeing if there is a role they'd like to take on. Try making them feel welcome by chatting before or after the group meets. This will benefit you as well as them - they might be really good at doing a task you hate! Be aware of cultural differences which might be shaping how people are behaving within your group (see below)