Stages in group work
To ensure a successful group outcome, you will find it helpful to divide your activities into a series of stages:
- planning and preparation;
Managing each of these stages effectively will greatly enhance your group performance.
Stage One – Familiarisation
This is the stage when the individual members of the group get to know each other and begin to understand the task they need to undertake. Time spent at this stage discussing your individual areas of interest and skills will be invaluable in helping your group develop a sense of its own identity (including its strengths and weaknesses).
Make sure everyone understands what it is they will need to achieve. Think about:
- the product: i.e. a report, oral presentation or poster
what guidelines have been set by your department to govern this work?
- the time scale: i.e. date of final presentation or submission
what things need to be done before you hand in your work?
how much time should you spend on the group project in relation to your other commitments?
- the assessment: i.e. the way your activity or output will be marked
do you know the assessment criteria?
will you be assessed as a group or as individuals?
If your group needs clarification of any of these issues then consult your course tutor.
Stage Two – Planning and preparation
This is the stage when your group should plan exactly what needs to be done, how it needs to be done, and who should do what. Pay attention to the following:
- agree the different elements of the task (e.g. a poster might involve background research, written text, an overall design, graphs and images, final assembly and so on);
- agree the best way of achieving these tasks by dividing areas of responsibility amongst the group, making sure that roles and time commitments are as evenly balanced as possible;
- make the most of your different areas of expertise by dividing tasks up according to the skills of different group members;
- make an action plan of what needs to be done by when, working towards the final deadline.
Stage Three – Implementation
Whilst your group carries out its tasks you will need to preserve your group’s sense of purpose. Effective communication is vital, particularly when your group activity extends over time. Here are some tips to promote good communication.
- Share addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses at an early stage to facilitate contact between members of the group.
- If possible, set up an email distribution list for rapid communication so that issues or problems can be flagged up as and when they arise.
- Establish regular meetings of the whole group to check on progress and review action plans. Take notes at these meetings to help record complex discussions.
Stage Four – Completion
The final stage of your project is often the most difficult and may require a different management approach. It will be vital to ensure that you pay close attention to detail, tie up loose ends and review the whole product rather than your discrete part of it. It is important to regroup at this stage to agree a new action plan for the final burst of activity.
Occasionally, groups can run into trouble, and it is useful to be aware of some of the problems (and the appropriate solutions) right from the start. The following list highlights some of the most common difficulties.
- Unfair division or take-up of labour between different group members: this can lead to resentment if someone feels they are doing all the hard work or if the group thinks that one or more members aren’t doing their fair share. Use your meetings to check that people are happy with their workloads and discuss problems openly, making sure that issues are addressed as a group concern rather than putting pressure on individuals.
- Conflict between different group members: this might arise for many different reasons including two people competing for leadership or simple disagreement about ways forward. Don’t be afraid to rotate leadership responsibilities or find ways of accommodating differing opinions. Your group practices should be flexible and democratic rather than rigid and leader-led.
- Tackling inappropriate tasks as a whole group: groups are notoriously bad environments for carrying out such activities as writing first drafts of documents or carrying out detailed searches. Be aware of the limitations of group activity and don’t be afraid to delegate responsibility for particular tasks to individuals.
Always consult your course tutor if there are overwhelming problems in your group. An independent voice can often help diffuse tension and help your group get back on the right track.
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