Group Work and Collaboration
Working with others is something you will be asked to do time and time again, both at University and beyond. At face value, this might seem like something that is easy enough, but there are many challenges that working with others is likely to present. You need to consider how you will adapt to each challenge to get the most out of not only the group, but yourself too. For example:
- Different peoples’ learning styles; their different strengths and weaknesses; what motivates them and what makes them lose interest in a task
- You need to understand your role in the group, as well as everyone else’s
- You need to develop the social skills of knowing when to stand your ground and when to compromise; when to offer and give help if it’s needed; and how to appreciate different methods to your own
- You will also need to develop a shared understanding of what the task is, agree who will do what, and when and how each member will report back to the group as a whole
As a student, now is the ideal time to develop this skill. You are given the opportunity to work with your peers; these are people in exactly the same position as you, going through the same experiences, and likely to share a lot of the same worries you do. This is a safe and supportive environment in which you can discuss ideas, learn from each other, and develop key skills that will benefit you throughout your entire career. Your peers might well have developed hard-won knowledge about how best to approach a subject you are really struggling with; in turn you might have worked out plenty for yourself that others just haven’t realised. Furthermore, you can help one another hugely simply by acting as a sympathetic audience and “ critical friend”. Learning to deal with the challenges, reflect on the experience and articulate what you have got out of the process will transform group working into a valuable skill to draw on in other contexts such as job interviews and assessment centres.
It’s for all of these reasons and more that you will often be expected to participate in group tasks and activities, or might set these up yourself. The resources and strategies outlined below will help to make sure that you get the most out of these opportunities to collaborate with other students.
Identifying roles within a group can be a good first step towards ensuring that the environment is a productive and supportive one. Have a look at the word cloud and think about which of these roles might suit you within a group project. Are there roles that you can recognise yourself adopting? Are there roles that you think are missing within your group? Certain roles can help to keep the group focused and organised around a task (for example, facilitator, timekeeper, prioritizer); others will help you to encourage and critique one another's ideas (for example, innovator, devil's advocate, harmonizer). Not all groups need all roles, but thinking about the appropriate ones for your project and allocating them early on can help you to hit the ground running.
Working with others can make you behave differently than if you were working alone. It's the same for everyone, which makes seeing those behaviours unfold and change as the group comes together one of the pleasures – and potential challenges – of group work. If it didn’t, and if everyone remained resolutely the same no matter what circumstances they were in, many of the benefits of group work wouldn’t be achieved. So the question becomes one of working through and making the most of the dynamics that emerge within a group, rather than trying to work around them.
The more aware you are of how you’re behaving, the more potential there is for changing, and helping the group change too. Awareness also helps you understand why others in the group behave in certain ways; you can step back and ask whether or not this behaviour has to do with you as individuals, or how you as a group are working.
In other words, understanding group dynamics eases some of the heartache of group work, as you realise that difficulties are not always caused by particular individuals within a group (yourself included), but rather about the way you have all approached the task together.
There are many tools and resources available to facilitate collaboration and allow you to work collectively as a group from remote locations. Some tools you may want to consider using include:
Trello: A simple and free online project planning and management tool. Trello allows you to divide up a task into sub tasks, allocate responsibilities among a group and set and track deadlines
Padlet: Padlet is a free tool that allows you to pool ideas remotely among a group using the equivalent of digital post-it notes. You can get down your initial thoughts on a topic, organise your ideas by theme or create a structure as part of the initial planning stages of a project.
Google Suite: There are a range of collaborative tools available via Google Suite, accessible via your University of Sheffield login. Use google docs to create a collaborative document, calendar to organise your time, slides to develop a group presentation and drive to store and manage files and resources.
The main thing to remember on group projects, is that you are all working towards the same goal, and want to achieve as much as possible. Creating an environment where you can all contribute to this end goal is the job of every group member.
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