Group work: Goals, roles, & ground rules
You've been given your assignment and have your group members in place. Your next step is to set up your group's goals, roles, and ground rules to make the most of your time working together. Taking a few minutes at the start of your assignment to cover this will often proactively address any issues that may arise during group projects.
Let's look into each of these a bit more:
Use our downloadable Group Work Roadmap [ .doc/ .pdf] to take the guesswork out of this process.
In this first step, you are ensuring everyone is on the same page regarding what mark you want for your project, what date you will submit your project, and determining your specific project topic or focus if given choice in your assignment.
Know from day one if your group is aiming for a final grade in the 70s, 80s, or 90s. Also, discuss if this mark is one you can comfortably achieve or if it is one you will strive for. This will help set both the tone for the group and the expectation for submissions.
As a group, collectively decide on a date for final review and submission. As you will have many people working on many parts try to build in time for group reviews of the final draft of a project well ahead of the required due date. This will allow time for additions or upgraded work ahead of the due date.
As a group, discuss the project's outline and be sure to come to a consensus about what is expected. Brainstorm and discuss topics if your professor allows self-selection. This will set your group up for drafting task assignments and ensuring everyone is working toward a common goal.
Now that your group has established the "what" of the project, you need to consider the "who" and the "when".
Each member should have an equal amount of tasks they will carry from the group's workload. This does not necessarily mean an equal number of tasks across all members as some tasks may be very large and others very small. As a group, look at your assignment and begin to break down the project into various tasks.
Once all tasks are written out, have each member indicate if there are any particular tasks they are best equipped for or are interested in doing. For tasks which remain after this initial selection process begin to delegate these out in an equitable fashion. This can be done through another round of self-selection, random draw, or any number of processes. Review again the overall workload being tasked to each member - does the amount of time and effort seem equal? Finally, collectively create a schedule of mini-deadlines each task must be drafted, reviewed, and submitted within the overall timeline of the project.
Another role to be considered is that of the draft reviewer. Each member's tasks should be shared with another member once a final draft has been created. This review period should allow time for feedback and for the draft creator to be able to implement any changes agreed upon.
Ground rules for groups cover the details which push your progress along and create fair communication & conflict expectations. Again, using our Group Work Roadmap resource will help navigate many of the ground rules needed to be covered. Considerations include meetings, attendance, communication, and conflict.
- Revisit the date chosen for the final draft submission review by the group and set a tentative date to all meet and discuss.
- Reviewing the mini-deadlines, or your own class schedules, establish meeting dates throughout the project's timeline to meet together as a group. This could be weekly, biweekly, or staggered dates throughout.
- Determine how long these meetings will be scheduled to last.
- Determine where meetings will take place; it doesn't have to be the same place every time. If meeting online, determine what tool you will use and try to pick one that everyone is comfortable with using.
- Determine the proper process for notifying the group if you will miss a meeting.
- Determine the plan of action if there is a member who continues to miss or be late for meetings.
- Determine how an emergency meeting will be requested/announced.
- What will be the primary platform for asynchronous group communication? (e.g. email? an instant messaging system?)
- What will be the primary platform for asynchronous individual communication (e.g. sending drafts or reviews of drafts)?
- Review and agree to use healthy communication dynamics.
- Determine how information from meetings will be shared with members who were unavoidably absent.
- Discuss how the group will provide constructive feedback to members for absent, subpar, or low-effort submissions.
- Discuss the escalation process that will be followed in determining when to alert your instructor of a failing group member.
- Discuss how the group will respectfully get back on task when a group member(s) are off-topic, coopting too much time/energy of a meeting, or have become too fixated on an individual issue that is not impacting the group.
"Setting Expectations & Ground Rules" [Algonquin College Library; YouTube]
Whether big or small, using our Group Work Roadmap can help give a physical space for your group to document many of the choices made concerning goals, roles, and ground rules. Taking a couple of minutes to complete this at the start of your project will give everyone a clear path to navigate and clear expectations of them by the group. The more transparent these factors are, the less likely you are to encounter misunderstanding-based conflicts.
Algonquin College of Applied Arts & Technologies. (2021, June 3). Essential study skills: Group work. Algonquin College of Applied Arts & Technologies: Student Support Services. https://algonquincollege.libguides.com/studyskills/group-work
Carnegie Mellon University. (n.d.). Sample group project tools: team contract template. Carnegie Mellon University: Eberly Center. Retrieved March 9, 2022 from https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/teach/instructionalstrategies/groupprojects/tools/TeamContracts/teamcontracttemplate.docx
Carnegie Mellon University. (n.d.). What are the challenges of group work and how can I address them? Carnegie Mellon University: Eberly Center. Retrieved March 9, 2022 from https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/teach/instructionalstrategies/groupprojects/challenges.html
Indeed Editorial Team. (2021, June 9). Four common types of team conflict and how to resolve them. Indeed. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/types-of-team-conflict
La Trobe University. (2020, September 18). Common types of group conflicts and how to resolve them. La Trobe University. https://www.latrobe.edu.au/mylatrobe/common-types-of-group-conflicts-and-how-to-resolve-them/
Levin, P., and Kent, I. (2001). Draft manual on teamwork tutoring: 28 questions and answers for academics on teamwork in universities.
Oregon State University. (n.d.). Team work makes the dream work: make your group project awesome like a blessing of unicorns. Oregon State University: Academic Success Center. Retrieved March 9, 2022 from https://success.oregonstate.edu/sites/success.oregonstate.edu/files/LearningCorner/Tools/4-page_twdw_-_fill_-_20.pdf
University of British Columbia. (n.d.). Resolving conflict. University of British Columbia: Chapman Learning Commons. Retrieved March 11, 2022 from https://learningcommons.ubc.ca/student-toolkits/working-in-groups/resolving-conflict/.
University of Waterloo. (n.d.). Teamwork skills: Being an effective group member. University of Waterloo: Centre for Teaching Excellence. Retrieved March 9, 2022 from https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/tips-students/being-part-team/teamwork-skills-being-effective-group-member