Group work is a vital part of life and as such needs to be included in our educational journey. However, Let’s be completely honest, nobody likes group work assignments. Every semester we are allocated projects involving us working in teams and each announcement is met with a unanimous sigh. It cannot be avoided so we must embrace it and make the best of it, here’s my advice on how to get through the process and emerge the other side having learnt something about yourself and hopefully with the best possible grades too:
- Don’t Worry
There is no point in feeling anxious about group work, we all have to do it and we all feel the same so, the very best advice is to stop worrying and throw yourself into it. I completely understand that a lack of confidence or a shy personality can cause significant issues when forced to work with others, it really does put us out of our comfort zone, but try and relax. Remember that your team mates will be feeling the same and after a few meetings you will get to know each other and start to feel more natural in each other’s company.
Even if you feel that the assignment you have been allocated is not as relevant to your course as you had hoped, or you have been asked to complete a ‘game’ in order to get to know each other better, such as the Lego playtime task. Remain positive and highly energised throughout and you will reap the benefits and assist others in your team to feel more relaxed as well.
2. Understand The Rolercoaster
I’m sure most will agree that group work of any kind can be a rollercoaster of an experience. It starts as a high climb, understanding the dynamics and how the tasks will be allocated, then, when you feel you’ve reached a successful high, you’re plummeted to the ground and then back up again, only to start it all over again. I realise that not all groups experience dramatic highs and lows and that really will depend upon the personalities involved but, if you understand there will be peaks and troughs of emotions, you’ll be better equipped to deal with them. Go along for the ride and flow with the changes.
3. Chose Your Group Wisely
If you’re lucky enough to be able to chose your own team mates you must pick who you want to work with very carefully. This may be difficult if you don’t know people yet as was the case in my first semester, we had to create a group in the first week to work together for the next three months. Nobody knew anybody, it was a big ask.
My process here was to sit back and watch people, trying to envisage which personalities I felt I could work with and who had skills that could be attributes to our new team. This may sound calculated, however it is a sensible approach. I would also suggest that if you are able to create your own group once you have already formed your friendships, don’t necessarily pick your friends. This may sound harsh but sometimes group pressure can cause stress in friendships and if you value your relationships it may be sensible to avoid working those closest to you.
Of course, if you are assigned a group, put into a team with people you’ve never met before this can bring it’s own challenges. The same advice however stands true, observe initially and identify each other’s strengths so you can apply those effectively to your task. Once you’ve met a few times you’ll understand how you all fit into the group dynamics.
3. Be Realistic, You will Get Frustrated
It’s a fact, group work is complicated because there are so many different personalities and skills involved. As long as you are prepared for frustration you will be able to handle it when it arrives in your group. Even the calmest of people experience dissatisfaction at times, be realistic, expect it and you’ll be able to employ restraint. I would suggest that you voice your irritations in a professional and honest way, remember you are all human beings and everyone in the group has feelings which should always be considered. There is absolutely no need to fall out over minor grievances. Keep it front of mind that the only important thing is that you complete the task on time and to the very best of the group’s ability.
I would also advise that you keep your annoyances to yourself where possible. There is no need to discuss the issue with anybody else, it’ll just turn into gossip and can be hurtful to others involved. Keep your own council and explain your feelings to the group as a whole, in the calmest possible way.
If you have an issue with one particular individual, don’t ignore it, silence will make you feel resentful and worsen the situation. Ask the person for a private chat, perhaps over coffee, and talk things through sensibly and rationally. Explain how you feel and hopefully they will appreciate your honesty allowing you to resolve the problem amicably before it escalates and affects the group’s submission.
No single individual should be more important than the group as a whole.
4. Have Respect For Your Team Mates
To survive group work, everybody must show each other respect. Recognise that you have different characteristics and if you have a confident personality try and bring those in the group that are a little quieter out of themselves, encourage them to express their ideas. If somebody says something you disagree with, listen – they may have a good idea that you’ve just not given chance to settle in your own thoughts. Try to think before you speak and offer opinions, if you feel that what you are about to say could be difficult for others to hear. Be calm and respectful at all times, demonstrate restraint if necessary. Just, be kind! You will only earn respect if you demonstrate it yourself.
5. Feel The Joy
I have not met a student yet who is excited when first given a group task. This is often a very different story though when the task is finished – a sense of euphoria that the ordeal is over may be experienced but also a feeling of pride in a job well done will settle in. Group work can be a fascinating adventure, you’ll discover things about yourself you didn’t know and can establish some incredibly strong bonds with those you work with. I have been especially lucky in the groups I have worked with, forming life long friendships. Take time to enjoy the process, it can be a joyous one if you approach it sensibly and with an open mind and thoughtful heart.
6. Group v Team
I attended a lecture yesterday about Managing Creative Teams and Projects which gave insight into the concept of Team versus Group. Understanding the difference is important, particularly if your group has been allocated to you and not naturally formed. Here is a slide from the presentation which explains the concept:
I would suggest that transforming your group into a team would be a positive action.
7. Be Organised And Complete Your Allocated Tasks
Completing your own allocated group tasks is crucial to ensuring success for your entire team. You don’t want to be the one who halts progress, if you have agreed to carry out a task do so within the planned timescale and make sure you have applied yourself to the activity entirely. Organisation and planning are increasingly important when working within a team because others rely on you as much as you do them, read my article on simple planning tips for students for further help on how to allocate your time and tasks efficiently.
8. Communicate Effectively and Consistently
Effective communication is the most critical aspect to successful group work. It is wise to set up a group communication tool perhaps on What’s App or Facebook Messenger as soon as the group is formed. This can be used to make sure the team is on track with tasks, to share ideas and also to let each other know if you’re unable to attend meetings. I cannot stress enough the importance of regularly keeping in touch with each other, if you are specifically asked a question, make sure you answer it quickly as you may be preventing another team member making progress.
Regular meetings in a suitable environment are also vital to aid communication, nothing beats face to face conversation to advance activity. Setting roles for every team member and allocating tasks as early a possible will assist with creating smooth transition through every stage of the task with everybody knowing what is expected of them from the beginning.
10. Be The Best You Can Be
Treat group activity as seriously as you do your own personal work. Complete every task to the very best of your ability, even if you feel others in the team may not be performing in the same way. Maintain your standards and “Be the best you can be” on every occasion. Remember you’re not only letting yourself down if you don’t strive for perfection, but there are others who will suffer too. Generally, group members are awarded the same grade unless somebody specifically let’s the team down and lecturers are made aware of this, you therefore absolutely must give it your best shot for the sake of everybody.
It’s really important to celebrate the successes of your team – ideally together as a whole group. This may be at the end of the task, once the assignment is submitted or at each milestone achieved. You could arrange something as simple as a round of applause or cheer at the end of a meeting or have a wild night out once you’ve submitted your work. The activity will depend on how well you have bonded of course. Whatever you decide to do though, it is imperative that you obtain closure on the group activity in the most positive way possible. This will leave you on a mental high for the next group assignment you face. Believe me, unless you plan to live as a hermit for the rest of your life you most certainly will have to work with other people again in some sort of capacity, it is therefore highly beneficial to start enjoying it now.
Finally, my last piece of advice is embrace the opportunity of working with others on every occasion. Have a positive outlook and an open and honest approach to your team members, regardless of whether you have anything in common with them or not. You will only get out of the experience what you put in, leave any negative thoughts at home and absorb yourself in the task.
Thanks for reading.
I’d love to hear your experience of working in groups, please leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.
The Voice of The Mature Student Tribe