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Preparing

This section is for groups with time to prepare. There's a condensed version for groups in a hurry at Fast Start

Choose the topics you need or follow the topics in order.

Forming Groups

Already allocated to a group?

Then move right along to "Getting Acquainted" below.

Are you self-selecting your group?

First consider the two crucial factors:

  • Group Size
  • If you are able to select the size of your own group, remember that groups of about four seem to work well because

    • it's easier to organise meetings.
    • each person makes a larger contribution.
    • students are more visible and accountable.
    • there is less chance of fragmentation and splinter groups.
    • there is a greater chance of cohesion in a shorter amount of time.
    • it's easier to reach consensus.

    Some assignments may be designed for a larger group.

  • Selecting Group Members
  • When selecting group members, remember that in order for your team to be effective, you need the right team members. Good qualities to look for include
    • Shared common goals
    • Same vision and expected outcomes
    • Similar time in common for meetings and groupwork
    • Diversity and individual strengths to add to the group work dynamic
    • Commitment to the project and task at hand

Then...

  1. Decide which of the options are available to you.
  2. Make your decisions about your group size and membership.

Give your group a name

Do this now. It's positively correlated with success in group work. Consider it a warm up exercise for group decision-making.

Getting Acquainted

Many groups run into problems because members don't get to know each other. This is why it's in your interest to try some of these exercises. If your lecturer runs an ice-breaking exercise give it a go - it's an enjoyable and practical foundation for group dynamics.

Do an ice-breaker exercise

There are 3 short ones in Ice-breakers (PDF)

  • Three truths and one lie
  • What's our name? Logo? Slogan?
  • Identification exercise

Know each other already?

Go straight to "Group goals" below.

Keep a record

It's a good idea to keep a record of your group work. It could take the form of a folder containing the worksheets and a brief record of each meeting. (You could suggest this to your group and offer to take on the recording role, or another person might nominate to do this.) The record may be a required part of assessment. It will certainly prevent discord stemming from conflicting memories.

Use the Meeting Record template (PDF) to record each meeting.

Group Goals

State your expectations
Groups can fall in a heap when individual expectations are unstated. You can guess why: we all assume that the rest of the group sees things the same way we do. But the truth is, of course, that we see things very differently.

Try the Expectations exercise
This exercise puts everyone's expectations on the table as the first step towards agreeing on common goals.

Download the Worksheet (PDF)

Consider individual needs
Think about each other's individual needs. Do some people have particular work or family commitments? Is access to computers or other support services a problem for anyone? A non-English speaking background might need special consideration. So might returning to study after a long absence.

If you are aware of the needs of the other members of your group, you can help each other better. Make use of UTS' support units - UTS: HELPS or disabilities or other special needs

Action Plan

Here you finalise how your group will work together. At the end everyone signs. This is more than ceremonial: it's a contract which locks your work agreement into place.

WORKSHEET (PDF)

Potential problems

At this stage it's worth thinking about potential problems so you can avoid them. The three most common problems associated with group work include-

  1. Problems with meetings and plans-Research shows that students tend to skip many of the early meetings because the pressure isn't on yet. Then they panic as time runs out and have more frequent and longer meetings closer to the due date. Poor decisions get made under pressure and friction results. It's vital to have regular meetings and go steadily according to the group's plan. It's the best way to make sure everyone is doing their bit and the assignment is actually progressing. The reality is that you are going to have to make time to meet up sooner or later. If you are going to find time later, you may as well find time earlier (before the heat is on).
  2. Problems dividing up work- Students often divide up the group assignment, then go away and work on their individual bit so they don't have to meet. This usually backfires because it's very hard to "sew" the different pieces back together. But if you work this way make sure you think about how the assignment will be pieced together at the end, and who is going to be responsible for the piecing together.
Below you will find an action plan to help you identify and resolve the various issues associated with group work.

Action Plan

Issues Prompts and activities
The group assignment Make sure you all understand the assignment. Is individual contribution to the group assessable? If so, how many marks is it worth, and how will it be assessed? Is the assignment already divided into tasks, each with allocated marks? If not, can you logically divide it up yourselves?
Number & length of meetings UTS students on average meet for an hour once a week. But your group can plan meetings as you think best. If you decide to meet online, commit yourself to a cut off time each week to complete each step
When you'll meet Work out when the whole group has to meet. Are there some reasons for fewer members to meet separately?
Where you'll meet Check each meeting against everyone's diaries. Check holidays and semester breaks.
How you'll meet Face to face?
Discussion rooms in Library? Book on 9514 3666 or ask at Enquiries Desk. Get in early - they are in heavy demand. Faculty study rooms? Someone's home?
Online?
Ask your lecturer about setting up a discussion group in UTS Online. Or make your own email list.
Why you'll meet Identify the purpose of each meeting: is it to initiate the tasks? To check in and make sure everyone's up to date? To review the whole assignment? Perhaps you'll allocate different times for different purposes.
Group rules Here are some examples of rules used by other groups which might help you make your own
  • Each speaker will be clear, specific and concise- no five minute speeches.
  • If you're going to be late, let the group know.
  • Speaking and listening are equally valued.
  • Enjoy the process.
  • We don't have to get it right at first, we just have to get it right.
  • Everyone has to be the most tolerant person in the group.
  • Members absent from meetings will be noted.
  • Share problems and questions with each other immediately so they don't magnify.
Potential problems & their resolution Look back at the Expectations exercise. What problems emerged? Are they solved? Or have you agreed on a strategy to minimise their impact?
Milestones and deadlines Work backwards from the date due.
Allow enough time for special needs.
Allow enough review time at the end to do another draft of the entire assignment, just in case.
Who will do what Consider ways you can divide up team tasks: the way your lecturer divided them up? By who is good at what? By preference? By ability and experience? Do the Belbin team analysis (PDF) exercise to help you here.