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MHS Library | Working in groups

Group work requires some organisation

Group work can be fun, and productive, but it has its challenges. Some students enjoy it, some don't, and there are those in between. The success of working in groups depends on a range of factors, including personality types and the willingness to work together towards a common goal. 

This guide provides an insight into ways in which you can learn to make the most of group work, regardless of your personality type and preferences.

Getting organised:

To begin, it helps to keep in mind that not everyone works in the same way or at the same pace. 

First of all, begin by coming to an agreement about how you will work together, and if your group needs to meet outside class time, organise the date and time, as well as how long as session you will commit to, and create this meeting in Teams or on an alternative platform. 

Decide how you will record and share information and research, eg a collaborative document,  in advance. Create a list of tasks, then allocate people to specific tasks, and make sure the action they are responsible for is clearly understood, so everyone knows in advance what is expected of them. 

If the group work is during class time, allocate roles for each member, and make sure that everyone feels confident contributing to the discussion and task. 

Towards the end of the allocated class time, if the group work is expected to continue in the next lesson, or if the group needs to meet outside of class time, take the time to summarise what has been achieved, and then what still needs to be done


How to give constructive feedback in a group

The main thing is to be aware of how others might feel in a discussion and not make them feel excluded. If there is trust in your group, and everyone feels respected, and confident that they will be heard, then it is possible to give constructive feedback when you disagree. 

It's best to start with a positive statement about what they've said, eg 'I found what you said interesting' and 'I've never thought of it like that'. Then you can proceed to provide your perspective. Instead of disagreeing straight away, ask them why they think that, and then follow with 'have you thought about...?'

It's always a good idea to find things you agree with because then they will be more open to listening to what you have to say. If you disagree straight off, then they will become defensive, and this will not result in an open conversation.

It's important to be constructive when disagreeing with group members, as well as being specific, such as providing clear examples for why you disagree. This way the conversation is about what has been said and not about the person.


Listening skills are important in group work

Successful group work requires good listening skills, and an awareness of others in the group.

You may be extroverted, or have many ideas and the confidence to express them in your group, but be respectful of every member, and aware of those who need more time to process the ideas and opinions, and who are less vocal in the group.

Good group work requires some deliberate turn-taking in order for there to be a balance in the group dynamics.

Be proactive in asking the quieter students about their ideas. Encourage every member to express their opinion. Sometimes this will mean you don't say everything you want to, but it also means that you will hear things from others which you hadn't thought of yourself.

Successful group discussion:

  • Make sure you speak with the whole group and not just your friends (even unintentionally)
  • If you notice your group is veering off topic, find a way of reminding them about what you were talking about
  • Admit your mistakes or any misunderstanding graciously and move on; it's not a competition; you are working together towards the same goal
  • Build on others' ideas and opinions, eg 'That's an excellent point because...'
  • be respectful and objective, focusing on the collaboration of ideas, and avoiding any personal remarks
  • Be aware of the language you use, eg if you're frustrated, find an objective and constructive way of expressing yourself

Managing conflict in groups

Conflict is damaging when it becomes personal or if people speak aggressively. Disagreement, if managed constructively, can lead to creative ideas which come from a variety of voices. 

Offer practical solutions if things get heated, eg a system of turn-taking.

Use respectful language, and call people out if they are using disrespectful or offensive language.

Playing to your strengths in group work

It's difficult not to feel competitive or even envious of those who seem to command an audience or are popular, especially if you are more introverted. You do not have to compete or be like anyone else to be a valuable group member, 

Play to your strengths and find a role you are comfortable with, eg you might offer to take notes, or create a schedule for allocated roles and tasks. Everyone is different, and you can find a way to actively play a role if you give it some thought. Sitting out and remaining passive will not make you or the group happy.

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