Effective Groupwork

Working with others is never easy - here are some guidance notes to ease the task.

Remember that each individual has their own outlook, talents and skills, and will in some way be able to contribute positively to the group. The difficult task is often to determine exactly which area that is in. This can become apparent with time, so allow all members equal opportunity to speak, and remember that their contributions are at least as valuable as your own.

Groups tend to work best by consensus, though some form of direction or leadership is often helpful in consolidating ideas and ensuring schedules are met. Ensure that everyone in the group has a clear idea of their role, whether it be leader, note-taker, scheduler, planner, whatever..... There will be a set number of tasks to be accomplished before the job is done, and an effective group is able to quickly identify those tasks, allocate suitable people or subgroups of people to achieve them, and then tie the project together with the minimum of time, effort and fuss.

Conflict is fine within a group. Disagreements are usually fruitful, highlighting different points of view and approaches to problems. A group that never disagrees probably only has one person doing anything. However, conflict and disagreement have to be handled well if they are to achieve anything useful. People have a right to their opinions and to have them heard. They can only expect to persuade others if they can argue convincingly and logically, rather than by sheer volume and insults. Shouting and swearing are not good, nor useful! Remember too that disagreements should never be personal.

Responsibility is crucial to a group's success. Each group as a whole has responsibility for achieving the final aims and objectives of the exercise or task. Each subgroup has responsibility for achieving their allocated role, and each individual has a responsibility to apply themselves as best they can to their particular part. Individual responsibility extends further than that, however. Each person has a responsibility to themselves to maintain their dignity and pride; to work at getting the group to work, to achieve all they are capable of achieving, and to assist others achieve their full potential.

Within the project scenario, there will be plenty of scope to observe others work and see how their approaches to the problem differ from your own. Additionally, you will be able to observe their progress and work by looking at it on the web as time progresses. Criticism will be encouraged, and one of the things that you will learn during the course is how to criticise a piece of work. Criticism is the analysis of something that highlights the good and the bad in it. It should note the excellent ideas and innovations as well as pointing out the obvious and less obvious defects. If you criticise well, people will value your opinions and comments, and your own work will improve as you have a chance to learn from others mistakes as well as your own. If you criticise badly, then people will think that you cannot be objective (at one extreme you laugh at other peoples "mistakes", which is uselessly negative, whilst at the other you think everything is always "fine" or "nice", at which point your opinion becomes too weak to be any use).