Here are some frequently asked questions about effective group work. We’ll be adding more as they arise…
What is the difference between a more effective and a less effective group?
An effective group communicates consistently, both online and face to face. A more effective group gets the best of the group in terms of skills and knowledge. An effective group acknowledges and makes the best use of the cultural diversity in the group. An effective group uses project management, sets agreed milestones for agreed talks and group roles, and manages its time effectively. An effective group are honest and open with each other, constructive with criticism but not afraid to challenge and to praise each other. An effective group celebrates success.
What are the best collaboration tools for a group?
The group should regularly meet face to face as needed. Get around a table and ensure you can all see each other. You may also use collaboration tools offered by your organisation such as Slack, or other bespoke tools provided by them. Some groups meet via a Skype group call, other in a Facebook Group. You can also group text. The best tools also allow you to co-author documents, such as Google Docs. Keep their use simple and use them consistently. Agree their purpose from the start and ensure all group members buy into using them and understand how to use them. Don’t over-use emailing and texting. They are not good places to make collective decisions as they are very linear in design. Use the collaboration tools such as online groups.
We have a free rider in our group. What should we do?
A free rider expects everyone else in the group to do all of the work. Free riding has to be named by the whole group and attempts made to share the work load fairly. Free riders may need to be reported to a member of staff if they do not improve their commitment to the group. In some circumstances, for example, if the free rider only shows this behaviour near the delivery date for a project, it may be better for the rest of the group to just let it go and get on with it and rely on peer group assessment later on. Some free riders are not free riders at all but may have a personal issue. Ask if everything is alright. Be confidential in your group and be ready to help but also ready to recommend the group member to seek professional help.
We have a shy member in our group. What should we do?
Groups are less effective if there is too much silence. Shyness can come from a lack of self-confidence. Try to meet more informally, pair up with the person so another group member can speak a bit on their behalf and support them. Some shy group members are less shy in a cafe setting than a formal meeting place – others are more shy in a cafe and prefer a more formal meeting! Recognise the diversity in the group and try to find ways of communicating that suit each individual best. Some people who are shy face to face are less shy using online communication methods. If you are a large group then break into smaller sized groups for at least part of your meetings.
What if all attempts to resolve difficulties or Conflicts within our team have failed?
Contact the member of staff leading your particular course and write down all the attempts you have made as a group to resolve the issue within your group.
Our group lacks leadership, or, on the contrary, one person is dominating. What should we do?
Leadership should always be a temporary thing, based on the skills of the group members. One person might lead when there is a presentation to do, another might lead when the group is doing research, or when the group is under time pressure. When your group forms, share aloud what skills you have with the rest of your group. Let leadership be temporary and emerge as needed. But no one should be a permanent boss. Set some ground rules for your group (also known as a group contract).
How often should we meet?
It depends on the project. Meeting weekly for an hour is a good way to time manage and ensure progress, supported by online communication and collaboration. Occasionally meet for longer, for example when agreeing roles and tasks at the beginning of a project, when sharing research and when getting ready to do a group presentation and to hand in work. It can be good to start or end with lunch together to be more informal as a group. Ensure your meetings are well chaired and also time kept with a clear agenda. Agree who is doing what and the time scales.
There is bullying in our group. Or name-calling. What should we do?
Set some ground rules or a group contract right from the start and agree what will happen if unacceptable behaviours arise. Bullying is not acceptable to universities, course managers or employers under any circumstances. Be clear with the bully or teaser that their behaviour is unacceptable. Name the behaviour clearly to them, offering them objective feedback. But be safe. Let another group member know what is happening and how you are feeling and be prepared to make a formal complaint.
Our group always seem to be panicking. Why is that?
It is usually down to poor time management and not meeting enough face to face to track progress. Don’t leave things until the last minute. Meet very quickly after a project is set and set up a time plan, with clear team roles, milestones and consequences of group members not meeting their promises. The group may need a cleare project plan!
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