Group Work

In most courses, you will be expected to work with other students on occasional group projects, which can develop valuable skills in teamwork and organisation. Working with others is a helpful experience of the kind of collaboration that might be expected of you in the workplace.

For successful group work it’s important that you work as team:

  • Be positive and open to the group experience
  • Take time to get to know your team
  • Create a productive group environment
  • Set your team ground rules
  • Decide on your group working practices
  • Decide on your team/meeting roles
  • Check your understanding of the task
  • Establish your goal/aims
  • Get everyone’s contact details
  • Agree your next meeting date/time

Group work was one area of study that was completely new to me, having never done it as an undergraduate.  Getting it right was crucial, both my highest and lowest marks were achieved in group-work and the lessons learnt in the first group contributed to the high marks gained in the last.  Here are some tips.

  • Appoint a ‘Co-ordinator’ and have a formal group structure.  Voting for someone to co-ordinate can involve them doing no more than them sending out emails.  However if the group drifts it is useful to have someone to pull things together.  Get someone to take notes each time you have a meeting as well or ideas will be lost.
  • With the growing use of social media it is really useful to make a Facebook chat, group message or utilise WhatsApp for easy communication with each other.
  • Meet regularly,  weekly if possible.  If some people can’t manage this then by keeping minutes they don’t miss what was discussed and can contribute later, but it is generally better that half the group meets than no-one at all.
  • Conduct a skills audit and if you can try to get people to play to their strengths rather than have everyone try to do a bit of everything.
  • Set work collectively and be clear what everyone will do by when.  It is the nature of group work that some people will do more than others, however if this is accepted then the main thing is to make sure that everyone is making a contribution and it is quantifiable.  ‘I will do X by Y’ is better than ‘We will all carry on working on the project’ which can mean different things to different people.
  • Digital technology can be a great aid to group-work but it is vital that it doesn’t become a ‘Digital Dumping Ground’.  On one of our projects Dropbox was used to pile up huge amounts of data which we never got a chance to go through.  Try to have a group policy on what gets shared so you don’t get swamped.
  • Work as you go along, shared document programmes like Google Drive are great for this as everyone can contribute – we used different colours so we knew who added what.  Rather than waiting to the end and madly typing it up you often find you have created basic draft documentation as you have progressed.
  • Right at the start, plan for the end.  Draw up a rough timetable and refer to it as you progress.  This is especially important if your project doesn’t have any fixed points except the hand-in date.

Remember – a successful group work experience involves everyone still talking to each other at the end!