Working With Others: Turning a ‘Group’ Into a Grade Winning ‘Team’

Diversity 3 (photo by spekulator)

Be it a presentation, a talk, or a project, there are many possibilities of working in a group during your years at university.

I’d rather call it a ‘team’, but the word doesn’t seem to gel with studying as much as it has in the workplace. We refer to ‘group presentations’, ‘group talks’, ‘group projects’, and we very rarely substitute the word ‘group’ for the word ‘team’.

Nevertheless, a successful group is one that can pull together to become a real team. Today I present you with some ways in which you can move toward this.

Before that, we need to first consider the selection process. Sometimes you are given the opportunity to form your own groups. Other times, you are told who to work with:

If you have a choice in selecting groups –

  • Don’t make the group too large – If there is no strict number of members required, you may be mistaken into thinking that a large group of people will help make things easier. It won’t. The two words to remember here are ‘reasonable’ and ‘realistic’. Asking 12 people to form a group that’s working on a 10 minute talk is ridiculous. You might think more people means less work, but the flipside is that you’ll encounter more arguing within the group. Anyway, 12 peeps on a 10 minute talk would look slapdash and stupid.
  • Don’t just go with your friends out of default – When we’re given the choice to form a study group, it’s not surprising that we stay in our comfort zone and stick around with the people we’re mates with. But what’s the point in that? If you’re aware that one or two other people are suited to the way you think, it’s the best time to pluck up the courage to ask if you can help form a group with them. I accidentally discovered this useful piece of info one day when my usual crowd wasn’t in seminar with me. I had to look around and consider which people I had time for academically, even if I didn’t know much else about them. I chose a group that had already started forming and asked if they would mind if I helped them out too. They were happy for me to join and we created a very good presentation that got the highest mark in the class. From that point on, there was no looking back!
  • Offer to work with THEM, don’t suggest they work with YOU – It’s essentially the same thing, but if you word this the wrong way around, it’ll look like you’re parading as a bit of a know-all leader. You’ll get a lot more respect if you humbly offer to be part of a group.

If you don’t have a choice in the matter –

  • Be positive and look at the strengths within the group – While many lose interest straight away as they inwardly moan and get wound up with the people they’ve been forced to work with, you have a chance to seek ways forward. Much better to consider how to make the most of a given situation, rather than dwell on a less than perfect group.
  • Don’t compare other groups and start wishing you were in X or Y group – It’s not going to happen, so it’s a waste of valuable time. And what’s the point in getting even more frustrated by a situation you can’t change?
  • Learn what you can about what your peers’ ideas are – It’s amazing what an open mind can give you. In asking friendly questions and showing an interest in where each member of the group wants to take the assignment, you’ll help to build a rapport that could develop both the group and possibly beyond.
  • Ask any difficult and uncooperative member of the group what they would like to do regarding the assignment – Try to engage them before you get angry or upset. If it’s clear that the individual has no intention to participate properly on purpose, seek guidance from your tutor if all the group agree there’s a serious problem. But remember that there’s a difference between an uncooperative person and a person who is finding things difficult academically. Be sure to understand the difference. [I’d be surprised if you find someone who causes that much trouble, but it’s worth keeping in mind if the situation rises on one of those rare occasions.]

Now you have your group (and a few tips thrown in for good measure), let’s get down to the ways in which you can make the group/team shine:

PARTICIPATE

Participation works on many levels. To get you started, to participate means to Speak, Listen, Consider, Encourage, Develop, be Friendly and Open, Take Notes, have an Overall View (not just your own).

Employers make a big deal about a person’s ability to work in a team, as well as on their own. If you can participate effectively, you’ll have no problem with working in a team. Now’s the best time to take participation to a whole new level.

BE ADULT

While you may not agree with everybody else’s comments, there’s no need to let your own opinions overtake. Avoid unnecessary arguing by allowing everyone a chance to say their piece.

Once all people have been heard, it’s still not a good time to rush in with counter arguments. Rather than shout an idea down, suggest another way of looking at it. Ask if there is a way that both sides can be used to move things forward for the better. By incorporating different views, you may even manage to impress the tutor more than if your individual opinions led the way. Depends on the subject, of course!

APPRECIATE OTHERS AND THEIR DIFFERENCES

The world would not be the way it is if we were all the same. For this reason, keep your mind open to all eventualities and possibilities. For example, let a quieter person speak, show an interest in an idea, and don’t be afraid to suggest new ways for the group to interact if it’s not currently working. As always, if you’re the only person who doesn’t think the group is working, you’ll need to have words with yourself and work out why everyone else is moving along fine.

MAKE SURE EVERYONE HAS SOMETHING TO DO

It depends on what the purpose of your group is, but if it’s anything to do with a joint talk or joint presentation, make sure everyone has a fair workload.

Firstly, don’t leave anyone out of the work because you don’t think they’re good enough to do it.

Secondly, give a selection of tasks between each other. No individual group member should take all the fun stuff while someone else suffers the boring or laboursome work. Just as productivity is about finding a balance, so is organising workloads.

GO OVER WHAT YOU HAVE ACHIEVED AND AGREE NEXT STEPS

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen groups come apart at the seams because some members didn’t know what they were meant to be doing. To make matters worse, this can lead to slanging matches between members, rather than a reasonable effort to fix the problem before it’s ‘too broke to bring back’.

The best advice is not to let things develop this way in the first place.

So in closing each group meeting, everyone should remind themselves of what’s needed, what’s been agreed, who’s doing what and when you’re next meeting to continue the process. Make sure you’re all happy, prepared and understanding.

ASK FOR CLARIFICATION OVER ANYTHING YOU’RE UNCERTAIN ABOUT

It’s been said many times…If you don’t understand something, there will be others who don’t understand it either. Don’t be afraid to get your queries and uncertainties answered as you go along. The whole group will be in a stronger position if you do this.

EXPLAIN THINGS TO OTHERS IF THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND SOMETHING

Even if you don’t have any questions, other members of the group might.

If they do, give a little time to help them make sense of things. It will help the group to combine even further, as well as save time later by avoiding bigger problems later on. Ignoring an individual’s difficulty is a bad move if you’re meant to be part of a team.

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Let your work with others allow you to open up a bit and notice new things around you. One of the best things about teamwork is that you can find a whole new perspective on a subject you thought you knew everything about. Make the most of it and, ever so importantly, enjoy!