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Group Dynamics

All the resources you need to achieve group project success!

Working in groups can be challenging. However, there are a few ways to maximize your output. The following are important things that one should note when working in a group: 

Stages of Group Work

To ensure that your group gets off to a good start, it may be beneficial to:

  1. Communicate: It is important to set up meeting times, exchange contact information, and define expectations for group meetings.
  2. Ground rules: Setting ground rules helps establish and give each group member an idea of acceptable and unacceptable behavior during the group process.
  3. Review the assignment: Make sure everyone has the same understanding of the work to be produced and ensure that any confusion is clarified. Clarify assignments as a group.
  4. Assign roles and tasks to each member to keep the team organized. For example: project manager, editor, researcher(s), etc. 
  5. Schedule. Create an agreed-upon set of deadlines to hold teammates accountable. Give yourselves time with your instructors' timeline
  6. Understand academic integrity. It is important that all members meet the academic integrity expectations. If one student cheats, this can result in a breach for all members of the group. 

After you and the other members of the group agree about how to approach the assignment, take time to make sure everyone understands what it is they will need to achieve. Consider the following:

  1. What are the goals of the assignment? Develop a shared understanding of the assignment's expected learning outcomes to ensure that everyone knows what their role is supposed to be within the group.
  2. Note when the assignment is due [or when each part is due] so that everyone is on the same schedule and any potential conflicts with other class assignment due dates can be addressed ahead of time by members of the group.
  3. Discuss how you are going to specifically meet the requirements of the assignment. 
  4. If your professor allows considerable flexibility in pursuing the goals of the assignment, it often helps to brainstorm a number of ideas and then assess the merits of each one separately. Ask yourselves as a group: How much do you know about this topic already? Is the topic interesting to everyone? If it is not interesting to some, they may not be motivated to work as hard as they might on a topic they found interesting. Can you do a good job on this topic in the available time? With the available people? With the available resources? How easy or hard would it be to obtain good information on the topic? [NOTE:  Consult with your librarian before assuming finding information will be too difficult!].

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:

  1. Work together to break the project up into separate tasks and decide on the tasks or sub-tasks each member is responsible for. Make sure that work is equally distributed among the group.
  2. Assign due-dates for each task, keeping in mind that members will need time to review any draft documents and the group must have time at the end to pull everything together.
  3. Develop mechanisms for keeping in touch, meeting periodically, and the preferred methods for sharing information. Discuss and identify any potential stumbling blocks that may arise that could hinder your work.

NOTE:  Try to achieve steps 1, 2, and 3 in a group meeting that is scheduled as soon as possible after you have received the assignment and your group is formed. The sooner these preliminary tasks are completed, the sooner each group member can focus on their particular responsibilities.

While each member carries out their individual tasks, it is important to preserve your group's focus and sense of purpose. Effective communication is vital, particularly when your group activity extends over an extended period of time. Here are some tips to promote good communication.

  1. Keep in touch with each other frequently, reporting progress regularly. When the group meets for the first time, think about about setting up a specific day and time of the week for people to report on their progress [either in-person or online].
  2. If someone is having trouble completing his or her area of responsibility, work with that person to figure out how to solve the problem. Be supportive and helpful, but don't offer to do other people's work.
  3. At the same time, make it clear that the group is depending on everyone doing their part; all group members should agree that it is detrimental to everyone in the group for one person to show up at the last minute without his or her work done.

Be sure to leave enough time to put all the pieces together before the group assignment is due and to make sure nothing has been forgotten [e.g., someone forgot to correct a chart or a page is missing]. Synthesizing each group member's work usually requires some negotiation and, collectively, overcoming any existing obstacles towards completion. Technically, this can be done online, but it is better to meet in person to ensure that everyone is actively involved in the process.

If your group has to give a presentation about the results of their research, go through the same process--decide who is going to do what and give everyone enough time to prepare and practice ahead of time [preferably together]. At this point, it is vital to ensure that you pay particular attention to detail, tie up any loose ends, and review the research project together as a whole rather than just looking over individual contributions.

Writing the group report can be challenging; it is critical that you leave enough time for this final stage. If your group decided to divide responsibility for drafting sections, you will need to nominate [if not done already] a member to pull the final piece together so that the narrative flows well and isn't disjointed. Make it their assignment rather than assigning that person to also write a section of the report. It is best to choose whomever in your group is the best writer because careful copy editing at this stage is essential to ensure that the final document is well organized and logically structured.

Focus on the following:

  1. Have all the writers in your group use the same writing style [e.g., verb tense, diction or word choice, tone, voice, etc.]?
  2. Are there smooth transitions between individual sections?
  3. Are the citations to sources, abbreviations, and non-textual elements [charts, graphs, tables, etc.] consistent?