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Group Work and Study Groups

Working on a group assignment or presentation? Looking for resources on how to set up a productive study group? Look no further than these online guides from the Skills Centre!

Introduction

Image of four jigsaw pieces that fit together to form a square.

When group work is introduced there is often a collective sigh or gasp of dismay. This can be for a whole host of reasons including previous negative experiences or concern about working with others and having personal success linked to others.

This guide offers practical tips and downloadable tools to help you get off to the right start, manage the work and communicate effectively with your group.

We recommend reading this guide in full and then deciding which tools and techniques are going to be appropriate for your group. 
 

Many of the strategies in this section are based on in-person group working, which may not be possible for many groups while social distancing measures are in place. However, you can adapt many of these resources for use in online group work with a little creativity!

 

Get to know each other

When your group meet for the first time it's vital that you spend a short time getting to know each other. Ask everyone to briefly introduce and say a little bit about themselves.

You can also consider using an icebreaker activity to facilitate this conversation. Knowing more about who is in your group and what their interests, skills and experiences are can greatly increase the productivity of a group.

Ensure all group members feel valued and listened to

 

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Create a safe space for everyone to contribute:

As a group create a list of behaviors that group members should abide by. This is often referred to as a group contract and normally includes points about how individuals should treat each other and how the group should communicate and operate. (See Group Contract resource).

This can also be helpful for students with a disability as it encourages each group member to describe the conditions they need in order to contribute effectively to the group but without the need to disclose their disability (if they do not wish to). An example of this might be to request that all actions are written down so someone who has difficulty with short term memory will not accidentally forget to complete tasks assigned to them. 

Go round the group at the start of each meeting and ask what each person would like to discuss and ensure time is allowed for everything to be covered. Consider using a meeting agenda to capture this. (See Agenda resource).

In discussions consider asking people to raise their hand in order to speak or have a nominated item (pen, ball, spoon etc) that individuals must be holding in order to speak. Avoid speaking over each other or allowing individuals to dominate discussion (See Working with Others resource for more techniques).

If anyone has become disengaged try to speak with them as soon as possible in order to find out if there is anything the group can do to help them become more involved. The person may have very valid reasons for not engaging so it is important not to simply assume someone is lazy or not interested in working with the group.

Make sure everyone has a good understanding of the task

Reading the assignment brief as a group and highlighting key phrases/words can help make sure everyone understands the task. This provides an opportunity to discuss any points people have different views on. If there are any aspects of the assignment the group is unsure about you can go back to your tutor and seek clarification sooner rather than later.

Capturing the requirements of your client, or creating a fictional client, can help focus you're planning. You can do this by completing a personas template using what information you have about your client or you can reasonably assume about their expectations. You can refer back to this persona as your project develops in order to assess whether you are meeting the clients needs.

Click on the numbers on the below image for more information

Check that everyone is clear about what they have been asked to do

Using a group work planner in meetings can help make it clear who has agreed to do what and when they are expected to completed the task by. (See Group Work Planner resource).

Groups can benefit from having agreed roles in order to provide structure and direction. You can play to a team's strengths by allocating roles to individuals most suited to tasks or rotate responsibilities on a meeting by meeting basis to ensure everyone has the opportunity experience each role. (See Group Work Roles resource).

Keep in touch

Communication - keep in regular contact with your group to ensure problems are identified and dealt with early.

Collaboration - consider using collaborative tools (such as Google Drive and Trello) to share progress and maximise time between meetings.

Consideration - If anyone is unable to attend a meeting make sure they still have the opportunity to contribute. Ask them to provide any updates or questions in an email to be shared at the meeting and then ensure updates/decisions are relayed back to them.

Reflect on your own strengths and weaknesses as a group member

If you want to develop our own skills it is important to gain a greater understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses. There are many tools available to help with this but we recommend https://www.16personalities.com/. If you are able to identify early on the strengths you will bring to the team and the things you might have more trouble with then these considerations can be factored in when discussing group contracts and when assigning roles in your group. 

Finally, there is a tendency in group work to blame others for any problems and not consider our own behavior and approaches. Reflection allows us to review our own actions and help us process difficult situations.