Strategies for group work

Group work can be a positive experience in your studies if you work as a team and follow some of these straight-forward strategies, says Emma Price, Learning Skills Adviser.

It is common to feel a bit discouraged or pessimistic when set a group assignment. Students often prefer to work individually due to previous negative experiences of group work. This could involve some kind of conflict within the group, people dropping off and leaving others to do all the work, or difficulties negotiating time or ideas amongst the group members. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Group work can be a very positive experience in your studies; it just takes a few easy steps to manage it effectively.

As an extra incentive, effective group work is essential to learn, as this is an increasingly important skill required by employers. Students who have experience working in groups are better prepared for the collaborative nature of work in their future careers. It also means you can demonstrate this skill in job interviews using your experiences at university. So it makes sense to develop these skills while studying.

So with all that in mind, here are some straightforward strategies you can use whenever you have to work in a group:

Set ground rules

Always do this first. This could be more formal in a ‘group contract’ or through an informal discussion/email agreement. You’ll want to decide on:

  • how often you will meet,
  • how you will maintain regular communication,
  • what roles or tasks each person will complete, and
  • assignment goals and a timeline for completion.

Make sure everyone agrees and understands how the group will work.

If everyone is involved in this planning stage and has their thoughts considered, they are less likely to disengage from the group.

Regular meetings are essential

Try to organise your meetings and their individual goals from the beginning of the assignment. This way you will all know what you are aiming for as a group with set milestones and tasks to be completed for each meeting. If availability is causing problems, you might want to discuss if online meetings or a combination with face-to-face meetings will suit all of your group better.
Always record any decisions made, task allocations and assignment progress in every meeting.

Dividing up work

Before you can allocate tasks, your group will need to analyse the assignment closely to decide what is required and how you will achieve this. Once you have a clear picture on the assignment, you can then determine a fair and equal way of dividing the workload. Sometimes this isn’t always clear at the outset, so you may want to share some earlier tasks (such as initial research) and then divide up later tasks once you have a better idea of what is involved.


It might seem obvious to mention but all of your group communication should be polite and respectful. Not only is this common etiquette but will also help to maintain good relationships between the group members and potentially avoid problems. Listening to everyone’s thoughts on the assignment and keeping an open mind to suggestions is essential to effective completion. Be aware of your non-verbal communication (body language) when meeting together and focus on giving each other constructive feedback rather than negative criticism or ‘nit-picking’. At the same time, always consider any constructive feedback or suggestions you receive from your fellow group members and don’t take it personally.

Managing any problems

Problems will often happen due to group dynamics or slow progress. If conflict does arise, clearly identify the problem as a group and avoid negative ‘finger-pointing’. Focus your discussion on constructive ideas (rather than on individuals) and consider practical solutions to address the problem. You may need to revise your plans or change your goals, but remember, this is all part of working in a team.

Group work can be challenging but it is also rewarding. Through careful planning, active participation and good communication, your group work experience can be effective and positive.

Don’t forget the friendly Learning Skills Advisers at the Research and Learning Point drop-ins are available if you have any questions on effective group work, and remember to check for any upcoming workshops.

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