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This guide provides knowledge and resources on what to expect from group work for university assignments and how to make it a smoother and more rewarding experience. Group work can present challenges to many students, however, these types of assignments are effective in building transferable skills in team work, interpersonal communication, public speaking and leadership that future employers will find desirable and often essential.
These are a few of the common challenges a team may face:
- Role Uncertainty - when working as a team the responsibilities are shared between the team members and sometimes it can be difficult to delegate roles and understand what your role entails within the group dynamics, which can result in some vital responsibilities being missed whilst other responsibilities are overrun with team members taking them onboard. Clearly setting out individual roles and tasks can help overcome this challenge. Unclear goals can equally cause role uncertainty; therefore, setting clear goals from the start is a key component to ensuring each member of the team understands their roles.
- Lack of Trust - individual work requires you to make decisions and complete tasks by yourself, meaning you trust and rely on yourself to get the work done. When working in a team, having to trust fellow team members to make decisions and complete tasks can be challenging but it is important to build trust in order to function effectively as a team.
- Disengagement - when there's a lack of proper direction or vision to the project at hand, team members can start to disengage from the work and lack in motivation. By clarifying the team goals and how each member can contribute, this can help to maintain motivation.
- Different views, different approaches to the work and different talents and strengths - sometimes talent differences can cause conflicts within a team, depending on talents, some team members may be slower at certain tasks, or less efficient, whereas some may excel in a specific area. It is useful to try and work with the strengths of each individual team member. Set goals or tasks based on each individual's capabilities, skills, and strengths.
- Listening and self-awareness - when team members do not listen to each other and lack self-awareness, which in turn makes individuals resistant to feedback, quick to blame others for their own failures, and quick to take undue credit, this can cause ruptures in how the team works as a group. Reflection can be useful in this regard, so take time to reflect on your own thoughts and perceptions of the group and yourself, and question your position - are you being an active listener? Are you taking feedback onboard? How could you improve this?
- Proximity - when members work in different locations, it can be difficult to set up time for face-to-face meetings. In order to work effectively as a team, communication is a key element and emails/texts and skype calls can sometimes lead to miscommunication. Research has shown that remote working, liaising through emails and skype, is not the most optimal way for a team to engage with one another; therefore, it might be worth committing to weekly or monthly face-to-face meetings if possible, so that members can efficiently and effectively communicate with one another. Periodic in-person meetings help us to connect to other members and can greatly improve the team work progress, since face-to-face exchanges allow members to experience a wider range of communication, such as non-verbal cues, body language and environmental influences that simply cannot come across fully in emails.
Understanding your individual strengths and weaknesses can enhance your team working.
Using Potentially, you can complete an online questionnaire (personality indicator test) and access detailed reports that give you insight into your personal behavioural style and team role preferences. Potentially will also suggest areas to focus on and recommend further reading and activities available to you as a Westminster student to help you strengthen your graduate attributes. Log into Potentially to start your journey.
You may also like to undertake the MBTI personality analysis (free personality test).
- Clarify roles, responsibilities and accountabilities:
- For effective teamwork, it’s useful to ensure that each member understands their role and responsibility along with the roles/responsibilities of other members too. Try to come to an agreement on what needs to be done and who should be the one to perform each task so that everyone is clear on what their role entails.
- Set clear goals:
- When you have specific goals and deadlines for tasks, working together can be far more productive and effective. If you have an “agreed mission” and clear purpose, then each member is aware of the expectations and can actively participate in achieving the desired outcome.
- Communicate with each other:
- In order to achieve a healthy group climate, strong interpersonal skills are highly valuable. Members need to be able to communicate their ideas, how they are feeling, what their thoughts or opinions are, and any issues that arise in a clear, respectful and open manner. In turn, members need to be able to actively listen to each other and feel able to ask questions for clarification.
- Make decisions together:
- Making decisions as a team can be challenging, so decision-making needs to be based on open dialogue in which every member feels capable of sharing their ideas and solutions to problems in a safe and friendly environment. The team should support each other and when a decision is made, members should commit to this and help each other to carry out the decisions.
- Build trust and get to know each other better:
- Trust is difficult at times, but team members can build trust through demonstrating their accountability for work that is assigned to them. When trust is built, members can feel comfortable in communicating, advocating roles and taking action. Trust also makes it easier to share ideas and feelings between members and feel safe in knowing that others will be respectful when you do. By getting to know your team members outside group meetings, this can help to build trust and gain a better understanding of the other members and their perspectives. Perhaps also discuss your strengths and interests with each other so that you can play to each other’s strengths and interests in the group work.
- Celebrate differences/diversity:
- Creating an environment that accepts and celebrates member differences and the diverse backgrounds and values individuals bring to a team can help make the team far more effective. Communication is important in this regard, along with a willingness to be open to sharing your experiences, viewpoints, knowledge and opinions with each other. Being able to appreciate other people’s viewpoints as well as show flexibility, an ability to adapt and an openness to change in situations will help to improve group cohesion and understanding.
- Reflect on the teamwork process:
- Reflection can be useful. By reviewing the team’s progress, undone tasks can be addressed, conflicts and issues can be dealt with in a productive manner, and resolutions can be actioned quickly. Constructive feedback on ideas and behaviours can help the team and individuals develop professionally, providing suggestions on how work may be improved, should be given in a positive and respectful way.
(Booklet): This text looks at the roles that people play in groups, and includes questionnaires to complete. It also looks at the stages of group formation, and the skills needed to succeed in any group today, whether it is at university, at work or in any other social situation.
This guide was written by Dr Isabelle Coy-Dibley.
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