Working in a team

Why group work?

Working in a group enables you to undertake more complex projects by combining the strengths of the team. Considering different perspectives and drawing on group diversity can lead to deeper thinking and better solutions. The challenge of group work is that unresolved conflict can be destructive to the process, but managed productively, conflict can be constructive for a group.

Group work assessment tasks are common in the Faculty of Information Technology. The range of skills and attitudes you develop working together with other students is a vital professional skill. Very few people work in isolation. Most job interviews will feature questions asking you to demonstrate how you can work effectively with colleagues and clients.

Group work behaviour

It is important to recognise that there are stages in the life of a team. For an example, see Tuckman's stages of group development. Tuckman describes five stages of group development:

  • Forming - coming together
  • Storming - conflict
  • Norming - working out the rules
  • Performing - getting the job done
  • Adjourning/mourning - breaking up

Strategies for effective group work

  • Establish group norms (e.g. deadlines, expectations of group's performance)
  • Analyse assignment task - ensure common understanding of the task among group members
  • Assign roles and responsibilities within the group
  • Plan project timeline
  • Check progress regularly
  • Respond to group conflicts

Behaviours that support group work

  • Be prepared to share ideas with the group
  • Find your sense of humour when things get tense
  • Ensure group discussions have structure
  • Ensure everyone's opinion is heard
  • Try to complete individual contributions to the task well and on time
  • Listen and show support to others, and build on others' ideas

Attitudes that hinder group work

These attitudes were identified by J.R. Gibb (1961):

  • Evaluation - judging or criticising group members
  • Control - imposing individual will onto others
  • Strategy - using hidden agendas
  • Neutrality - being indifferent, lacking commitment
  • Superiority - expressing dominance
  • Certainty - being rigid and not listening to others

We have added one more:

  • Sexism/racism - inform your tutor or lecturer if this is an issue

Managing conflict

Managed conflict allows diverse groups to express differences in an open and respectful environment.

J.R. Gibb identified behaviours that can foster a supportive conflict climate:

  • Discussion - presenting ideas, opinions
  • Problem orientation - focusing on task
  • Spontaneity - communicating honestly and openly
  • Empathy - understanding others' thoughts
  • Equality - asking for opinions
  • Provisionalism - a willingness to listen to others

Reflective practice in group work

You may be marked on the teamwork process as well as on the final product of your group task. Peer review is also a form of assessment used by some lecturers in this context. Before you begin the group project, and as a conversation starter for your first  group  meeting, reflect on your capacity to contribute to the team. Do you sit back in group discussions, or do you dominate the discussion? Do you ensure that everyone in the group has their say? How do you allocate roles and responsibilities? Frameworks such as Belbin's team roles describe the strengths and weaknesses of team behaviours. Which role/s description/s suit you best?

You might use your group work reflections to form the basis of a group contract or a SWOT analysis.

Further resources

Guide to group work

See the FIT Guidelines for student work (group work).

QUT Library has some practical guidance about working in teams.

Griffith University provides advice in video clips.

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