Working in Groups

Dealing With Problems in a Group

Group work is rarely flawless. Two methods for dealing with problems are monitoring the group and discussing the problems. If you agree ahead of time about how to resolve problems, you can avoid involving your instructor in the situation; however, if you can't resolve the problem it may be a good idea to ask for assistance.

Clarify Your Expectations Early

One way to avoid problems later is to make decisions about deadlines, meeting etiquette, and penalties for missed work before any of these occur. This way you can refer back to decisions already made and avoid the possibility that one member may feel like they're "being picked on" or meetings become so out of hand they can't be controlled.

Monitor the Group

One way to help alleviate some of the problems that may result from group interactions is to encourage the group to somehow monitor itself. To facilitate this monitoring, each group member can keep a journal in which she or he comments on each group meeting. The journal can become the place to express frustration, to analyze the nature of communication taking place in the group, and so on. Or the group may choose to divide up monitoring tasks. One group member might be put in charge of keeping track of turn-taking (i.e., who speaks and when; do all members have an equal opportunity to speak; are some members always silent?). Another member might watch for nonverbal cues about how members are reacting to what is being said, or to an individual speaker.

Discuss Problems

In any of these monitoring scenarios, group members should be encouraged to discuss with the entire group any problems they see arising so that the group might discuss certain aspects of the group's dynamic before they become problems. Sometimes, however, the group will not be able to solve their interaction problems on their own. When this occurs, they should be aware that they can discuss this--as a group preferably-- with the instructor.

Overall, groups should be left to negotiate their own agendas among themselves, but discussing possible problem areas may provide the ounce of prevention that prevents the need for a more painful cure.

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