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Polish Your Professional Skills: Working Effectively in Groups: Start Here

How do we start our group on the right foot?

  • Introductions are necessary for group members who don’t know each other, but take that a step further by exchanging contact information and deciding how the group will communicate and share information (text or email?)
  • Identify group members’ roles and responsibilities.
  • Determine when you will meet and for how long, be sure to set up regular meetings. 
  • Make sure that everyone understands the assignment.

How should we begin the assignment?

  • Each member should share their understanding of the project objectives and requirements. Identify if there are any misunderstandings or if the objectives are unclear.
  • These questions should help you to clarify the course instructor’s objectives and expectations for the group project:
    • What is the purpose of the project?
    • What are you supposed to learn or what skills are you expected to develop?
    • How is this group assignment related to the course content?
    •  What are you supposed to produce? What format(s) will be used for the final project?
    • What criteria will be used to assess your work? What are the deadlines?
    •  Will each member of the group complete a separate piece of the project, or will you work together to produce a jointly authored final product?
  • Ensure that someone will keep records of the work being done and records all ideas the group agrees on.

How can we make group meetings productive?

  • Ensure that group members know in advance what role they are to play during each meeting.
  • Roles may include: leader, note-taker, trouble-shooter, detail person, big picture person, creative input, progress-chaser, reviewer, etc.
  • Set clear objectives for each meeting, arrive prepared, and keep to a schedule.
  • Appoint a timekeeper so the meeting starts and ends on time and everyone keeps to the schedule.
  • Break large tasks down into logical chunks and check progress frequently.

What if our schedules don’t permit us to meet regularly?

  • It’s important to know, as far in advance as possible, which meetings individual group members will be unable to attend, so that the other group members will be able to work effectively in their absence.
  • Find out what the course instructor expects for participation in group meetings. You will have to accommodate these requirements or negotiate a different arrangement with the course instructor.
  • Set clear, mutually-agreeable guidelines for attendance at meetings to encourage accountability.
  • Encourage group members to be as flexible as possible in establishing meeting times. Meetings should be missed only when absolutely necessary. Keep accurate records of meeting attendance.
  • There are alternatives to meeting face to face. Keep in touch over the phone or via e-mail. Make use of GoogleDocs, OneDrive or other multi-user platforms.

How can we deal with group conflict?

  • Set ground rules for expectations, appropriate group behavior, and meeting attendance at your first meeting. Decide together how the group will respond if members don’t meet their commitments. Put that in writing in case a member needs to be reminded.
  • Recognize that negotiating differences and accommodating unique work habits are part of participating in collaborative group projects.
  • Establish equitable roles and responsibilities for group members at the beginning of the project. Monitor this throughout the project and be prepared to renegotiate if necessary.
  • Try to make collective decisions professionally and democratically.
  • Watch for the warning signs of trouble and deal with conflict proactively.
  • Remember that patience and inclusive communication are essential to good group dynamics.
  • Make sure that your course instructor or teaching assistant is aware of difficulties as they occur and get help when you need it.

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