Working in Groups

What to Expect in Group Work

Several factors we may not always think about when working in a group are vital to a successful group project. You should always establish how your group will handle each of these. To learn more about these factors, choose any of the items below:


Although we might assume productive groups will always be in complete agreement and focused on task, the reality of groups, as we have probably all experienced, is much messier than this. "Ideal" productive groups do not exist. In fact, some of the most productive groups will disagree, spend a lot of time goofing around, and even follow many blind alleys before achieving consensus. It's important to be aware of the rather messy nature of group work.


Student groups will fight--in fact, they should fight, but only in particular ways. Research shows that "substantive" conflict, conflict directed toward the work at hand and issues pertaining to it, is highly productive and should be encouraged. "Personal" conflict, conflict directed toward group members' egos, however, is damaging and unproductive. The lesson is that students need to respect each other. Some groups decide to negotiate respect by making rules against inappropriate comments or personal attacks. When a damaging instance arises in a certain situation, any group member can immediately censor back the comment by saying "inappropriate comment."


Of course, groups will not continually argue nor will they continually stay on task. Socializing, joking around, or telling stories are a natural part of group interaction and should be encouraged. It is primarily through "goofing off&qout; that group members learn about each other's personalities, communication styles, and senses of humor. Such knowledge builds trust and community among the members. Although groups should be counseled not to spend inappropriately long amounts of time simply gossiping or telling stories, they should also realize the importance and influence such interactions can have on achieving a group identity that all members come to share.

Wrong Decisions

Group members should be aware of and comfortable with the frequently frustrating reality of making the wrong decisions. Making mistakes, trying out options that don't work, and so on are not "a waste of time." In any creative situation, particularly in writing, trying out unsuccessful options is frequently the only way to discover what needs to be done. Although such frustrations take place even in individual contexts, they are particularly hard to negotiate in a group context because our immediate instinct is to blame another group member for a faulty suggestion. Students should be aware that all time spent on a task is productive even if it does not lead to any tangible product.

Unequal Commitments

In a perfect world, everyone would have as much time and desire in a group as others to create the best paper possible, but the reality is some people are procrastinators or care more about their grades in certain classes. Expect this and make contingencies for it by deciding early on what the "penalty" will be for those who miss meetings or fail to pull their weight.


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