Strategies for Effective Group Work

By Gwyneth Boyer

The term “group work” has come to inspire many different four letter words; “love” is not one of them. From my personal experience, and from experiences my friends and co-workers have had, group work can be frustrating.  However, there are ways that people can work together peaceably and successfully, and believe it or not, group work can be beneficial for you.

Keep in mind that graduate programs and jobs are all becoming more geared towards the collaborative process of learning/working. Team work is important in most fields and understanding the balance between relationship building and task completion is an important part of working effectively as a group. There are group members who seem to naturally fall into the leadership positions, as well as group members who work better when faced with deadlines. Each classmate you work with has their own personal background and strengths, and they each bring something unique to your learning experience.

There are times when working with a group doesn’t turn out the way you planned. Remember if you run into snags with your group members or the project, you can always discuss these issues with your professor (whether privately or as a group). Professors can help mediate any issues that arise while working with group members and can clear up any clarity issues with the assignment. Your professor is there to help you through the process of learning, don’t be afraid to use them as a resource.

You can also come into the Writing Center for a group meeting. While we aren’t mediators, we can help you overcome some of your group hurdles by providing observational feedback on your group project or paper. Don’t forget to arrive on time with the full assignment guidelines in order to get the most out of the session!

So how do you get through a group assignment without pulling out your hair? While every group project is different there are some basic strategies that may help you work together with your group:

  • Establish a Plan:
    • It is always beneficial to discuss a plan for each group assignment so everyone knows what they are responsible for. Another tip is to write up a small contract for everyone to sign, in order to keep everyone on track. I know that writing a contract may seem a bit extreme, but it will provide you with undeniable proof of what each group member agreed upon at the beginning of the assignment. It may also save you a lot of grief if one of your group mates doesn’t do their part.
  • Make Deadlines:
    • Establishing early deadlines for your group keeps you all on the same page, and allows for any emergencies that may occur by giving you some wiggle room in the timeline. These can be written into your group contract.
  • Divide Work Equally:
    • As a group, use the first group meeting to discuss how the work should be divided. Dividing work equally gives everyone an opportunity to contribute without overwhelming anyone in your group.
    • As a group, assign deadlines that everyone can agree upon. Again, writing a contract may help keep your group on track, and protect you in the rare case that one or more of your group members didn’t pull their own weight.
    • Consider dividing into smaller teams. Using smaller teams to work on specific aspects of the assignment gives each person a “buddy” to rely on in case something goes awry.
  • Work to Your Group’s Strengths:  
    • Find out what people are passionate about in the assignment or have the strongest skills and let them work on those aspects. If they like that aspect of the assignment they may be more likely to work harder on the project.
  • Communicate:
    • Share emails, phone numbers, or connect on blackboard so you can be in touch with your group members. Without effective communication group work can easily become a major source of stress for yourself and your group mates. Another useful way to work together would be to establish a consistent meeting time throughout the quarter in order to allow your group to have enough time to work on the project.

I’ve found that the best thing to do is plan ahead. Look at group work as an opportunity to learn new points of view and practice for your future careers. It will work to your benefit to develop those skills now while you have resources like the Writing Center to help you through the process. Group work is a great opportunity to make use of your resources!

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