Effective Group Work – hands on recommendations.

Group work, whether it’s in a university or at workplace, is one of the things that is expected to bring more fruitful results, than just individual work. And generally teamwork is one of the most important skills that recruitment managers are looking for in potential candidates.

So, how to master group work skills already in the university, when all seem to be often concerned about credits, rather than the process itself.

This blog post is inspired by the workshop that I ran for the students in Gothenburg and is meant to give some extra support to anyone interested in improving the process of their group work and developing their skills.


Part 1. Get together and talk – first meeting is important!

On the first meeting the group has a chance to plan the entire work together and decide on each others’ roles and responsibilities.

  1. Meet up in pleasant environment

  2. Define the tasks to be done (split the whole assignment into smaller tasks)

  3. Draw a timeline for your assignment and place all the tasks on the timeline

  4. Share responsibilities.

    Share responsibilities based on the group members’ preferences and challenges (it’s good to understand that to develop new competences and skills, it’s more beneficial to challenge yourself, or depending on the situation, just to deliver what you know best). That’s why it is crucial to discuss what are the goals of your group members in this team work.

  5. Set the deadlines.

    You already have a timeline of your group work. Of course there’s no guarantee that all will go accordingly, but this is the matter of group management. You can set the deadlines for your group which run a bit before the official deadlines. It will give you a chance to reflect on what has been done and you’ll get extra time to finish what is needed before the official deadline.

  6. Decide on the style of work and communication.

    Discuss the best ways for the team to be more productive and happy with what is going on. Is it better to work in online mode, or should we meet somewhere to have a working session together? Listen to the needs and preferences of your group members.

  7. Consider possible risks.

    Openly discuss what are possible solutions if someone of the group members doesn’t fulfil the task or drops out from the group. Play out several “What if …” scenarios. It is usually fun, and at the same time it makes people more aware about the result of their actions.

  8. Set the date and time for the next meeting.

    It’s easy just to say “ok, we’ll see how it goes and we’ll keep in touch” (which usually slows down the dynamic of work). So, it’s better to decide on the next meeting and to discuss what should be done by the next meeting. 

Useful questions to ask on this stage:

  • What are the roles I/we take on in a group work?
  • What are my personal goals and what are our group goals in this work?
  • How could I match my personal goals with the group task?
  • What keeps me motivated? What motivates others?
  • Do I/we prefer the result by all means or the result with human approach?
  • Which is the best way to keep in touch and to communicate?
  • What can prevent me/you from accomplishing the task?
  • What are my/your expectations and fears?

Part 2. Keep it up – manage people and emotions!

Once the group work has started, be ready to test your management skills, and not only group management, but self-management. Here you will deal with personalities and emotions which is the most exciting and tough part of group work at the same time.

  1. Support and cheer.

    If you see that any of your group members doesn’t cope with the task or always delays it, don’t wait until the next scheduled meeting, but try to find out what kind of support this person needs. As well, be aware about yourself, and if you find yourself in a similar situation, better ask for help and support, than hide from responsibility

  2. Give feedback and evaluate.

    This step is usually placed to the end of the group work, or very often it’s not even included. However, it’s helpful for all the group members to get constant feedback and to have small evaluations all together not in the end of the work but periodically during the work. Feel free to ask for feedback yourself. Usually it produces a chain reaction and other group members will turn to each other for feedback as well.

  3. Try to be as objective as possible.

    Try not to build stereotypes and give quick judgements to your colleagues. Keep in mind that personalities and cultures differ. What means one for you, might be interpreted in completely different way by another person. Be more curious, ask questions and clarify, try to learn more about others and their culture.

  4. Develop your communication skills.

    One phrase said in two different ways can produce totally opposite reactions. Be aware of what you communicate and how. Do not assume what another person thinks, be open and clear, ask questions. If there is confusion, it’s better to resolve it all together than keep it in the group.

  5. Develop your emotional intelligence.

    The ability to put yourself in to the shoes of another person might be very helpful. Reveal more understanding and try to find out how to help another person, what stays behind his/her actions. Communicate your own emotions as well. If something is very important for you and you see that it’s not important for another person, but your work depends on his/her involvement, explain to him/her how it makes you feel and what it means to you. Even if there’s no personal chemistry between some of the group members, constructive dialogue and open discussion can help to leave people happy.

  6. Keep positive.

    Even if you don’t really like your group and not happy with the way it works, try to find something that you like, or something challenging that helps you develop new skills. Learn how to keep yourself motivated even if external factors influence your mood.

Part 3. After the group work is done – be grateful for the experience that you got, whether it was positive or not so positive!

  1. Organise the final meeting to celebrate the completion of the work.

    Gather in pleasant environment, maybe at home of one of the group members, cook together or just enjoy each others’ company. A good finishing note will sweeten any bitter experience that you might got during the working process and it will leave people with a good feeling.

  2. Evaluate.

    Make an evaluation round to find out how people in your group feel about the result and process of the group work. What would they do differently and why? What was the most enjoyable and the most challenging in group work. How would that be possible to improve this experience?

Following these steps will help you stay in control and be more aware of what is going on in your group and how you can improve it. And of course the major parts depends on you, as people are the core of group work process. And here is a small hint on why to bother about group work in the university. Stepping to career world, you and your future employer will definitely find these skills valuable!

skill-upSkills that one can develop in group work

  • Leadership
  • Facilitation and delegation
  • Decision-making
  • Conflict resolution
  • Negotiation
  • Persuasion
  • Creative thinking
  • Constructive criticism
  • Active listening
  • Mediation
  • Goal setting
  • Ability to plan and structure work
  • People management

and much more… So, even now you can think about what skills do you have and which ones you need to develop. Go for concrete examples that will not only help you realise what you are good at, but also will give a solid impression to your potential employer when you look for a job. This is what can help you stand out from the crowd!

Good luck in your group work!

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