Working Well in Groups
During your time at university you might find working in collaboration with others to be an essential part of your studies. For example, you might work with others on a joint presentation and this may require all group members to contribute something to the planning, design, research and delivery. You might find that seminars are held in groups, as might other practical work that you have chosen to do. Group work is an important part of your studies as it demonstrates your ability to communicate, discuss and co-operate with other students. The ability to relate well and work effectively with other people is a skill that you will find valuable if you want to get the most out of working well in groups.
We can often learn a great deal about ourselves when working with others and it’s a good idea to be open to this concept as it’s often a valuable gauge when looking at our own strengths and weaknesses and exploring areas which might benefit from further development. Working in a group can be challenging as everyone is unique, so it is important to be aware of the diverse skills that others will bring to a group so that differences can be noticed, respected and honoured. Learning to embrace a range of qualities is essential to ensure that everyone works as a team and contributes towards the end result.
Listed below are some tips on good communication, which is the most important issue when collaborating in a group:
- Be aware of the multiple meanings of communication. Communication is a two way process of listening and responding. Listening is the key point. Notice whether you are actually hearing what another member of the group is saying before putting your point across.
- Active Listening. Letting people know that you are listening, by making non-verbal responses that might encourage them to continue speaking. Responding in a way that demonstrates that you have heard what was being said. This might include nodding or making eye contact. It could also include summarising what you’ve understood by paraphrasing back to the other person.
- Notice your body language. It’s a good idea to take some time to notice how you are responding in a non-verbal way, for example are you looking attentive and engaged or is your posture slouching or are you looking bored? These types of body language can often demonstrate that you are disinterested. It’s a good idea to be aware of your own body language and what non-verbal messages you might be sending, and check that they are not a block to good communication
- Be accepting and understanding. Everyone is entitled to have an opinion and it’s possible to discuss these without getting personal or ending up with the group in conflict. A tip is to remember to be accepting and understanding of the needs of others and create an environment where you will also get your own needs met. For example: sometimes it might be necessary to compromise in order to move on.
- Respect others. It’s important to remember that people also have personal lives outside the group and this may at times interfere with their ability to be present and productive within the group, especially if they are feeling distressed and unable to concentrate. Keep this in mind and respect that sometimes external factors will upset the group’s balance.
- Be an active member. It’s important to be an active member of the group by letting other know how you feel and what you are thinking even if it goes against what everyone else is thinking. Don’t be afraid to explain your thoughts and share with others your reasons for thinking the way you do.
- Engage others. Some people find it more difficult than others to communicate and if it seems that someone is being left out or not contributing try to engage them in the group by carefully responding to them in an encouraging way.
- Setting up the process. When trying to work well in groups it’s also a good idea to have some group agreements laid out so that each member is aware of the expectations of the group. For example; setting up a contract that everyone is in agreement with, this might include things like time boundaries, confidentiality, use of mobile phones, when the group will meet, how the group will communicate when they are not together etc. There are many items that could be included in this process and it’s up to the group members to set the boundaries by which all agree to abide.
- Enjoy! Try to enjoy the experience and don’t just see it as a task that might be difficult. Working well in a group is all about learning good communication and as part of a group you can enjoy helping to make that happen.
The Counselling and Psychology Intervention Team is available for students at the University of Warwick:
You may be interested in attending one of the therapy groups that CAPIT offers throughout the academic year. These groups can help and encourage the development of good teamwork. See the group counselling page for more details.
To get a therapist view on group work, see:
Barnes, S., Ernst, S., & Hyde, K. (1999) An Introduction to Groupwork: A group-Analytic Perspective Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan
Bion, W.R. (1961) Experiences in Groups London: Tavistock
Lago, C. & Macmillan, M. (Ed) (1999) Experiences in Relatedness: Groupwork and the ‘Person-Centered approach’ Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books
Whitaker, D (2000) Using Groups to Help People (2nd edition) East Sussex: Routledge
Yalom, I with Leszcs, M. (1995) The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy New York: Perseus
Other workshops that you might find helpful offered by University of Warwick
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