Friday, 12 October 2012

Why do we have group work ?

In setting group assignments Royal Holloway module leaders expect friction within groups.  It expected that the work will be demanding and challenging and require students to develop effective team working skills in addition to academic learning. Tuckman’s group evolution model which can be summarised as “Form, Storm, Norm, Perform” anticipates in the idea of ‘storming’ where disagreements manifest themselves.  Norming, where through effective communication and mediation groups begin to agree and accept new ways of working effectively together, is the essential step before the group moves on to the final ‘perform’ stage.

Group work can be a roller coaster experience !

Remember that sometimes fellow students are struggling with a problem (money, family, health, relationship) that they do not feel comfortable sharing with you, yet may have a significant impact on their ability to deliver to your group work.  As a line manager (and some would say merely as a fellow human being) you would have a personal responsibility to understand such circumstances.  Important: Remember the College has a wide range of professional advisors available to help if it goes beyond just having a bad day. 

So, rather than waste emotional energy worrying about group working, embrace the challenge.  Look out for the tell tale signs of social loafing, poor communications, bad planning and a lack of common shared goals.  Rather than looking to punish and exclude group members who may be perceived to be under or non-performing, use it as an opportunity to practise (in a safe environment) a range of managerial approaches.  A real example of leadership that addresses an interview question along the lines of “Think of a time when you were working in a poor performing group ?”  is worth having, particularly if you tried four approaches that failed before the fourth delivered.  Remember “I always worked brilliantly in groups” is not believable.

In the work place, particularly with cross-functional or multi-organisational groups it is unlikely that individuals in a group will have a hand in choosing the group membership.  You are selected or nominated to participate, often resulting in more work, but the same time to deliver in.  Nobody wants to be associated with a failing group.  Nobody wants to tell tales on others to their line manager.  This kind of failure often results in the tarnish being shared all around the group.  Groups then make the best of what they have and seek to address their own issues, including non-participation, low motivation, limited skill sets and alike. 

MBA 2011/12 International Study Visit to Sweden "Profound team building experience"
Academic staff acting as module leaders may choose to put in place a group peer review process that allows individual grading and to flex the group grade in accordance with this feedback.  This often requires a combination of written comments and points scoring.  Ideally, groups should complete these forms (if they are required by the module leader) together and discuss the gradings and comments before they are submitted.  Whilst this process can see some small mark differences awarded, in extreme cases it is unlikely to fully reflect under or over performance and are unlikely to fully resolve broken group issues.  The recommendation is therefore that it is much better for the group to take personal responsibility to address and manage these issues from the outset.