How can we make our group work well together?

There are three important factors for successful group work below, with some suggested tips:

1. Time & space to work together.

To succeed, the group obviously needs enough time when all the group members are available to meet, including a space which has what you need for your work (e.g. quiet enough, internet access, etc.). Try:

  • physical spaces on campus (libraries, cafes, lawns, labs, etc.)
  • working together online (simple chat software, meeting software like Adobe Connect, etc.)
  • online document sharing (e.g. Google Docs, etc.)

There is a lot of useful software for group work, including free versions. Some online resources may have already been provided for your unit of study.

2. Clear goals for the group and individuals.

The first step towards successful group work is to make sure everyone knows what the goals are, for the group and for each individual - e.g. what the group should produce at the end, what grades the different members would like the group to achieve, etc.

The most successful groups will also set clear goals for what the group should achieve at each meeting, or what each person will do by the end of each week, e.g.

  • choose a topic
  • search databases
  • do reading & make notes
  • share notes with the group
  • collect data
  • write the first draft
  • proof read and edit, etc.

It is also necessary to clearly state at the beginning exactly what work each person will do. Make sure that everyone agrees that the workload has been shared fairly. Ask your tutor or lecturer for advice on this, if you are not sure. The University of Sydney’s Academic Honesty Policy states that schools and departments in the university must give clear guidance on how the tasks for group work assessments are shared among group members, and must make sure this is done fairly.

3. Supportive and responsible cooperation.

A group often contains a mixture of different personalities, cultures and levels of confidence and experience, so a special effort is needed for group work to go smoothly. For example:

  • Everyone needs to have a chance to express their ideas.
  • Group members should be positive and encouraging to one another.
  • Everyone needs to respect the group by being responsible for their own workload, arriving on time, replying to e-mails, etc.
  • Bad feelings in a group (e.g. if someone feels they are doing all the work, or if someone feels criticised or embarrassed) often causes lower quality group work, lower marks, and low quality learning.

You can learn tips for encouraging others and avoiding conflict at the Learning Centre workshop on Working in Groups (see link on the right).

For more on this topic, see the links on the right...