Tips for Working in a Group at University
At some point in our university studies we will need to engage in group work. Some may love the concept, whilst others may find it a challenge. However you feel about it, working in a group is highly beneficial to develop skills for your working careers. Once you enter your chosen career, working in teams to deliver projects is the norm, and you will find yourself working amongst varied personalities, just as you find at university. Working collaboratively on group assignments at university will help you develop skills such as decision making, problem-solving, interpersonal, organisational and management skills which are all highly transferrable to your future careers.
Research has previously found that students who are highly extraverted are more likely to have a positive attitude towards working in a group, whereas students who are highly conscientious are more likely to be task-oriented and are less likely to rely on others to complete the task.
To further understand group dynamics and the different roles people may play, The Griffith Collective caught up with Dr Mary Rogers, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Employment Relations and Human Resources, Griffith University. Dr Rogers gave us a better insight into the role of group dynamics, how to be an effective leader and some strategies for resolving conflict and working efficiently.
What are some of the roles that can occur when working in a group?
An important factor in group dynamics is the roles that people take on. In a group setting, individuals have the tendency to behave, contribute and relate to other team members in a particular way. The Belbin Team Roles categorises individual team behaviour into 9 different roles which include the Resource Investigator, Team Worker, Coordinator, Plant, Monitor Evaluator, Specialist, Shaper, Implementer and Completer Finisher. Most students can relate to either 1 or 2 of the roles listed and depending on the group context and number of people in a group, a student’s role can change over time. Taking a look at the table below which ones do you identify the most with?
How does working in a group setting later translate into the working environment?
Most work environments these days involve working in groups or teams. So, working on group assignments at university helps a student develop decision making and problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills such as being able to communicate and resolve conflict, as well as develop organisational and management skills. This is a big plus when you think about your future career and the employability skills you need to secure your ‘dream job’.
What are some of the benefits of working in groups?
- First year students will find working in groups will help them make friends and meet a variety of other students which will make them feel less isolated.
- Students will encounter working with others who have different skills to contribute e.g., one member might be really good at researching, someone else might be very good at analysing, or writing and editing.
- Research has found that groups make better decisions than individuals. Having different perspectives where members question and critically analyse will usually result in better solutions and better performance for the group i.e., a better overall mark for the group assignment.
- Students will learn about how groups function which will help them understand how to support each other and importantly how to deliver a final product.
- Students will learn how to work with people from different backgrounds and different experiences. Everyone is different, so it is important to learn how to work with others who have different opinions; some who might disagree with them.
What are your recommendations when working in a group setting?
- Get the group together as soon as possible.
- Exchange contact details (email, phone number).
- Get to know each other, get to know each others’ skills and how each person’s strengths can be used to the best advantage.
- Discuss and agree on the focus, content and scope of the assignment. It is important that everyone is working towards the same goal. If a group member does not understand something, then they should speak up and ask for some clarity. Students should never be afraid of doing this.
- Allocate responsibilities as evenly as possible. These responsibilities need to be clearly defined.
- Agree on a strategy for dealing with group conflict and for dealing with group members who are not doing their assigned work.
- Set dates to review draft sections and the final unified assignment. This will include collating everyone’s section and editing the unified assignment. The Completer Finisher usually makes a good editor!
- Keep the communication channels open to check on how everyone is going and whether they are on track to meet the set dates for each stage of the process.
- Remember to allow for contingencies; sickness, work commitments, etc.
- If there are issues or problems that arise with group members not meeting the set deadline e.g., they are ignoring you, then contact the Convenor or Tutor and show evidence of the group processes and communication.
What are your recommendations on being a good leader in a group?
Listen and be patient. Everyone is different and everyone’s opinion needs to be considered and respected. The leader also needs to remind the group members of what was agreed upon at the beginning.
What are some ways to resolve conflict within a group?
- Students need to remember that they have to work together as a group. So, it is important to try and resolve any conflict as a group.
- If there is a designated leader, then the leader needs to focus on the process of keeping everyone on track.
- If the group goals and deadlines are not being met even though the group has provided some flexibility to help a group member deal with an emergency situation, then contact the Convenor or Tutor to discuss the issues and options.
By Zehra Rabbani