Struggling With University Group Work? Our Top Tips for Success

One of the biggest changes you’ll encounter in the way you study at university compared with school is that there will be a greater emphasis on group work. University group work is a different challenge to anything you’ll have experienced before and it will provide you with the perfect experience to help you prepare for whatever career you choose in the future. 

Working with others well is a big part of most jobs, and if you are struggling with university group work, we’ve put together a brief guide to help you recalibrate and to improve at working in a group.

What Are The Challenges Of University Group Work?

people doing a handshake to show they're working as a team

We all have our own methods of learning that we have perfected for ourselves over the years of schooling we have undertaken. When we are suddenly thrown into a situation where we must work with others there can be some challenging aspects that we must come to terms with, for the project to be successful.

Assessment through group work might seem unfair to some students who have complete confidence in their own ability to meet expectations and deadlines. 

Understanding the dynamics of the group and finding that there is dispute over the different processes available to how the group work should be shaped, is another challenge to overcome when discussing university group work. There could be cultural differences between group members and annoyance or disagreement over the level of effective contribution from different members of the group.

1. Understand The Group Dynamic

table of people working hard

The first thing to do when tasked with university group work is to understand the dynamics of the group. There will be different characteristics, strengths and weaknesses within the group. If you struggle with group work the best approach is honesty. If every person in the group is honest about what they are good at and what they may be weak at, an effective approach can be formulated.

There will be natural leaders, those who have confidence speaking in front of other people, and those who want to buckle down and work on the details, happy to work on parts of the group project on their own to bring back to the wider group at a suitable time. Understanding the dynamics and assigning the correct role to the correct person is crucial.

2. Ensure There Is Clear And Smooth Communication

people communicating and laughing in a group whilst working at university

It is more important than ever before to have in place clear channels of communication for university group work. Covid has changed everything, and it might not be as easy as it once was to casually meet up with your fellow students to discuss the group project that you are working on together.

Quite often, university group work is randomly assigned, or at least out of your control, and you must learn how to work with different people. You might not have met some of those people before, or you might not get on with them, but you must communicate with them well and work together for the benefit of the group, leaving your own pride behind.

As soon as possible after the group has been set, share contact details, and agree as a group how often you wish to have official meetings as a group where you work, and whether there is a more informal group chat, such as a WhatsApp group where you can check in with each other.

Think about how you would like to be talked to during group discussions and make sure that you are respectful and courteous with other group members when speaking to them. Ensure that every single person in the group has their voice heard. Actively listen to others, be prepared to give and receive constructive criticism and be open to different points of view. Only once you are prepared to listen to everyone can you begin to move forward as a group and be effective with your communication.

3. Create A Clear Plan Of Action With Defined Roles

girl taking the leadership role whilst working hard in uni

Any project needs to be planned methodically to be successful. This can be a bit more difficult when it comes to university group work, as you are talking about the needs and time of multiple people. Once you have agreed on the means of communication that you will use during the project you can begin to talk about the specifics of the work to be completed.

Review the overall objectives of the group, the purpose of the assignment, and the deadlines, making sure that every person in the group understands the desired end result. Speak to your tutor for clarity about the project and then begin to look at specific individual roles.

Group tasks should be clear to everyone in the group, and it is at this point where the dynamics of the group become important. Assign a group leader to take charge of meetings, this could be rotated or kept as one person depending on what the group as a whole feels best. As well as the specific tasks to get the work done, the group needs roles filled such as note-taker, someone to make sure deadlines are met and there could be other specific administrative roles that are required.

4. Group Meetings And Project Tracking

studying together under no covid restrictions

Once the project is underway, the roles have been defined and every person knows what they are doing, regular group meetings should take place to ensure that the project is moving in the right direction. With clear deadlines in place you can set out group meetings on specific dates and in specific locations throughout the duration of the project.

University group work could be over a few weeks or even a few months, so it is important to make sure that the group sets clear dates to meet. Each group meeting must have a clear itinerary and schedule, with smaller achievable deadlines built into the longer group project goals and targets.

Use project tracking tools to help keep everyone involved and on the right path, Google Docs is a safe, simple-to-use tool that allows interaction and comments on shared documents, from any location. This is especially important where remote working is the normal process. Covid has changed how university functions, and as we are in a world of limbo in many cases, with a mixture of face-to-face lectures and online classes, your university group work must take the form that you feel is the safest for you as a group. If this is a physical meeting, you might decide that testing is the way to go before the meeting, or it could be that you use an online meeting place, such as Teams or Zoom, to interact with each other.

The first step to improving how effective you are at university group work is to understand the challenges ahead of you. From there, you can plan effectively, learn the best dynamics and roles within a group that suit you and bring about the best outcome, and put in place the tools and processes that will help the group excel.

If you’d like to find out more hints and tips about how to work effectively at university, keep on checking back with us here at Homes for Students. We’d also love to hear from you about how you approach university group work and the solutions you have found to overcome the challenges inherent with group work.

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