Group Work That Works
Do group projects feel like more work, not less? Do you love your group project meetings but find you are not getting much work done?
The Academic Success Centre has group work strategies for assembling your group, navigating workload balancing, communication dynamics, and conflict management. Whether you’re with the same group members you’ve had all year or are in a brand new group for one final assignment; try our strategies to help you find the way to let group work elevate your experience and not your frustrations!
Assembling Your Group
It is tempting to match up with friends or the person sitting beside you. You want to work with people who have similar academic goals, work ethic, and accountability levels as you. This may mean branching out from your usual group member picks as you consider your goals with this assignment. If you are in an assigned group, it can help to begin your first session by completing a Group Work Roadmap to bring everybody together.
Navigating Workload Balancing
Start your assignment strong by using our Group Work Roadmap to take the guesswork out of this process and set you on the right path for sharing the workload equally
Crucial to any good roadmap is deciding what the destination is. For your assignment, your destination is your grade and determining the grade you want as a group will help with many of the decisions along the path to reaching it. Is your group striving for a 70+, 80+, or 90+ mark?
Next is answering the questions of who, when, where, what, and how?
- Who has any scheduling conflicts or considerations to be aware of?
- How often should you meet?
- Where will you meet (in person, virtual, or asynchronous)?
- How will someone access information if they miss a meeting?
- What is the expectation of someone who misses a meeting?
- How should an emergency or supplemental meeting be requested?
- When is the assignment due?
- When should a final draft of the entire assignment be completed for a group-review?
- Who will be responsible for which tasks?
- How will you know if the workload is balanced and equitable?
- How will a member notify if their workload is imbalanced?
- When will you meet throughout the assignment for status checks on your individual tasks?
- Who will be responsible for whose mini-deadlines of tasks throughout the assignment (hint: every member should be responsible for someone else’s task).
For a more in-depth review, check out our Goals, roles, and ground rules page.
Working as a group means communicating as a group. Creating healthy communication dynamics assists in completing tasks and in avoiding common points of friction. As a group, commit to communication dynamics of:
- Allowing all group members the opportunity to speak/vote.
- Allowing all group members the opportunity to listen & to process.
- Allowing all group members the opportunity to ask questions or request clarity.
- Allowing all group members the opportunity to be appreciated for successful task completion, excellent work, and timely submissions.
- Allowing all group members the opportunity to express when they feel overwhelmed, overworked, or over-assigned at any point during the project.
- Allowing all group members the opportunity to provide constructive feedback.
- Allowing all group members the opportunity to be informed when the group feels they are not on task, have missed a deadline, or needs to improve/revise their work.
Conflict and friction may make you wish you could bury yourself in the project and ignore it, but by identifying the conflict you can also select the best way to manage it.
Which scenario below reflects your situation?
- Scenario: Group member hands in tasks last minute.
- Review the “Tasks” and “Proposed Mini-Deadlines” portion of the Group Work Roadmap to verify what the mini-deadline date was for the member’s task. Group members work in different ways and if your group member is meeting their deadlines with acceptable work produced, then they are not violating the expectation set forth by the group.
- Solution: If necessary, request the group review mini-deadlines for possible date revisions. In this scenario be sure that the deadlines adjustments are being enacted because they will be beneficial to the whole group. If an adjusted timeline is only serving to decrease stress for one member who prefers to beat deadlines, be cognizant that you may now be causing added stress to other members who have structured their schedules around the original deadlines set.
- Scenario: Group member is not contributing equally.
- If a group member is putting in low effort, having other group members do their work, or producing work well below their norm, reach out to them. Review the “Communication Dynamics Agreement” and “Conflict Management” portion of your Group Work Roadmap.
- Solution: Respectfully communicate with the group member the actions which are creating conflict. Ask if they are doing okay (they may be overtasked, stressed, or have non-group assignment issues occurring). Constructively discuss with that group member which tasks or expectations they are not meeting and discuss potential ways they can be met. Determine as a group the timeline for completion of their task and repercussions if this second chance is not met. If the next step will be to contact the professor, make this very clear to the member.
- Scenario: Group member’s behavior, communication style, or personality clashes with you.
- Review your Group Work roadmap to decide if all tasks, deadlines, and communication expectations are being met. Sometimes stress about these items can cause a person’s presence to be more grating than it otherwise would be.
- Solution: Reinforce the principles of communication dynamics and be open to working with the individual to discover how to work best as a group. You may need to suggest sharing time and space equally across all members during meetings. You may need to restate the applicable portion of the "Communication Dynamics Agreement" of your Group Work Roadmap. You may need to explore providing constructive behavior about disruptive, rude, or dismissive behaviour.
- If you feel a member’s behaviour is aggressive, abusive, or discriminatory, consider reaching out to your instructor.
- Scenario: Group member has been unresponsive to group interventions and you worry this will negatively impact your grade.
- This can be a difficult scenario as it means you, as a group, have offered solutions to a group member without successful accountability or response by the group member. This solution requires both tact and respect when you can be at your most frustrated.
- Solution: If every reasonable effort has been made to rectify the scenario, you will need to prepare to reach out to your instructor. Email the group member a reflection on what has occurred, the second chance offered, what remains unresolved, the timeline they need to reply by, and reiterate that next step will be to contact your instructor. If the issue remains unsettled, using the “Communicating with your Instructor” resource, draft a group email to your instructor outlining what has occurred, what solutions were attempted, and your current progress point in the assignment. I recommend cc’ing your group member to this email as it shows your instructor that your group has been responsible, accountable, and transparent.
Group work on assignments, projects, or papers can be a highlight in your semester that creates new bonds with classmates and expands your network. Being an effective group member in a high functioning team can propel everyone toward your desired grade. Together, your team will complete an assignment you can all be proud of.
Looking for more strategies and tips?
Check out MUN's Academic Success Centre online!
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