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Strategies for effective group work

Read about the strategies you can use to help you get the most out of group work when studying at university.
© British Council

As you’ve seen, group work is a key feature of many degree programmes. Although everyone has been in a situation when they have had to work as part of a group, you may not have been graded on group work before, and it may take you some time to get used to this kind of assessed work.

Who is in your group?

It’s likely that your tutor will have decided the composition of the groups. If students on your degree programme come from a range of different cultures, your tutor may mix the students up so that, as far as is possible, each group has students from several different cultures. Part of the experience of group work will be in learning more about one another’s attitudes and perspectives, and this is important because, in a globalised world, researchers, scientists, engineers and business people are increasingly working in multinational teams.

Your tutor may choose a team leader, but often groups are left to themselves to choose a leader. One thing you can do is have a different chairperson for each meeting – this way the leadership responsibility is shared. You may decide to allocate other roles, for example, someone to act as secretary to record what was discussed and what decisions were made.

How are you going to work together?

Again, your tutor may give you guidelines about how to work, or you may have to agree your working procedures in your group. It is very important to spend time doing this early in the process, because if you don’t, you may find you waste time or have misunderstood each other.

Here is some advice for effective group work, including some of the points made by Dr Adewale, Lina and Hayder.

  • Spend some time getting to know each other, before you start the assignment

  • Agree the rules of behaviour, eg
    • Everyone in the group must have the opportunity to speak.
    • Everyone in the group must take responsibility for the work that is allocated to them.
    • Everyone should respect one another’s right to a different opinion. If you disagree, do so tactfully and in a reasoned way.
    • Everyone should be prepared to compromise
  • Write these rules down and get everyone to sign a copy.

  • If you allocate specific roles to group members, think about taking it in turns to perform those roles in different meetings.

  • Choose the right environment and time of day if you meet face-to-face. It should be somewhere quiet and reasonably private, free of distractions. You may also decide to meet online, if it is difficult for everyone to get together in one place.

  • Technology offers an easy way to connect with others. You should agree which online collaborative tool to use for talking to each other and for sharing and editing documents. Your university will likely have a list of recommended websites or software you could use.

  • Check that you all share the same understanding of what the assignment requires.

  • Decide how you are going to make decisions. Are you going to work towards everyone agreeing, or are you going to vote on decisions if you can’t all agree?

  • Break the task down into stages and set goals for each stage, with a timeline.

  • Allocate tasks to individual group members, but review as a group what each person has done.

  • At the end of each meeting, agree what should be done before the next one, and what you need to bring to that meeting. Recording minutes or action points for your meeting will facilitate this.

  • If there are problems in the group that can’t be solved within the group (eg someone not doing their fair share of the work), talk to your tutor – don’t leave it until it’s too late.

  • Be patient and tolerant.
© British Council
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