Spotting and dealing with problems

Maintaining momentum
Roles in a group
Running good meetings
Meeting deadlines
Giving and receiving feedback
Spotting and dealing with problems

All groups can have problems. For example, domination by one person, member(s) not contributing, aimless unproductive meetings, people not turning up to meetings, lack of progress, and in extreme cases strong personality clashes.

Proper planning and regular meetings go some way towards overcoming these problems before they happen, but often it is important to be able to spot any problems in the group, and do something about them.

It is important to realise that some tension between group members can be a good thing. Group members disagreeing and arguing about ideas is natural, and to be expected and encouraged. Some tension can lead the generation of creative approaches and ideas. Groups need to be able to spot the difference between creative, constructive tension and compared to destructive tension.

Spotting problems

Aim to work out what might be going wrong. Reflect upon these points, individually or as a group (download the 'What's going wrong' checklist):

  • Do we listen to each other?
  • Do we keep repeating arguments and not moving on?
  • Do we constantly interrupt each other?
  • Do we just push our own ideas instead of developing and encouraging other's ideas?
  • Do we allow dominant members to dominate?
  • Do some of us fail to contribute?
  • Do we compromise enough?
  • Do we concentrate on making impressions rather than getting the job done?
  • Do we have a clear set of tasks or objectives?
  • Do we make it clear to all members what has been decided?
  • Do we make it clear who is to act on decisions?
  • Do we put each other down?
  • Do we bring irrelevant or unhelpful points?
  • Do we recognise that others have feelings about what is happening in the team?

If you identify problems, consider what the root cause may be and develop a strategy to try to overcome it. Don't become personal about what you might see as 'problem group members'. The bottom line is that there is a problem for the group that you all have to work on. Be constructive and positive abut how to move forward.

Adapted from: Gibbs, G. (1994) Learning in Teams: A Group Manual. Great Britain, the Oxford Centre for Staff Development.  p42.

Dealing with problems

  • Some problems stem from poor communication. Improving communication to group members about meeting times, decisions made, task responsibility, planned deadlines and expectations about deliverables will help to overcome problems. See the pages on The first meeting and building a real team, Giving and receiving feedback and Meeting deadlines.
  • Some problems stem from poorly run meetings. See the page on Running good meetings, the Running good meetings checklist and the Good leadership of meetings checklist.
  • If one person is doing all the talking, or some members are making no contribution, try suggesting that there are time limits for group members to speak, or allow each person in the group to speak in turn. You could also try having all the group members write down their perceptions of the amount of talking done be each person in the group, and the ideal amount of talking that could be done by each person. The 'Who is Talking' template might help. After everyone has completed their estimates, have a discussion about what each person can do to make the level of contributions more appropriate.
  • If the group lacks progress try to getting each member of your group to present oral or written progress reports. Have regular, weekly, meetings to discuss progress and plan strategies to move forward. A clear plan of attack and schedule of meetings formulated early in the process may help to prevent this problem from occurring.
  • In some cases, but not may, extreme conflict between group members may develop. This is often caused by a personality clash or strong disagreement on group processes. The group and the individuals involved should first try resolve the problem, but if that is not possible it is recommended that you get your tutor or lecturer involved. The staff member may suggest that s/he facilitates a mandatory group meeting where the group process up to that point can be reviewed and assessed. At this point it may be necessary for your group to identify their project plan, meeting schedule, set tasks or goals for each group member and any other documents the group has produced (like meeting minutes, writing plan etc.).

General principles

  • Develop an atmosphere in your group where you are able to share any concerns that may develop about group progress and dynamics.
  • Reflect regularly in your meetings about how well you think you are functioning as a team.
  • Seek advice from your lecturer tutor at appropriate stages. Ask for help and advice when your group needs it.
  • Definitely seek additional help early if problems develop that you are unable to resolve as a team. Speak with your lecturer/tutor early in the group work process to seek advice about any problems.

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