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Group Work

Group Work Challenges

Conflict itself isn't always a bad thing—when groups create a safe space to share ideas and to disagree, conflict can improve problem solving and even strengthen relationships.

That said, managing conflict is a skill that many of us are never taught. When it's not handled well, conflict can wreak havoc in your group and lead to bad outcomes for everyone involved. So, how can you mitigate conflict before it gets out of hand, or deal with it when it does?

In this section, we'll explore common group work problems and look at ways to work through them as a group.

Preventable Challenges vs. Personal Conflict Challenges

Group projects often get de-railed by two types of challenges:

  1. Preventable challenges.
  2. Personal conflict challenges.

Preventable challenges include problems that could have been avoided if your team created a group contract or a shared plan in the early stages of your project.

Personal conflict challenges are often trickier to fix—these challenges happen when two or more people disagree about something. Disagreements can come down to differences in goals, values, viewpoints, access to resources, and more.

Learning how to recognize and work through interpersonal conflict in productive, healthy ways is an important skill that can help you have better relationships in your day-to-day life and set you up for success in the workplace too!

Solving Problems in Your Group

How to Deal with Difficult Group Project Members

We've looked at some common group problems that might come up during a project—but how do you work with someone who seems to be making everything difficult?

Watch the video or check out the boxes below for the different types of people you might meet in group projects, and some tips on how to manage the experience.

Who are the 'difficult' group member types you might work with during a project?

  • Self-appointed boss

    This person loves telling other people what to do without doing much work themselves. Group leaders invite conversation and make sure everyone has a voice during the decision-making process; bosses tend to take over group discussions and leave little room for collaboration.

  • Team member with 'bad vibes'

    This person tends to shoot down ideas without offering solutions of their own. Providing feedback on ideas is important, but projects can only move forward when everyone is solution-oriented.

  • 'Deadweight'

    This person is hard to track down—they might not show up to meetings, and they might be difficult to contact. While some people might try to avoid their work, others might be dealing with challenges outside of the classroom, so it's important to give people the benefit of the doubt until you can talk to them.

  • Procrastinator

    This person is capable of great work, but often doesn't get their work in until the very last minute—they might need help with breaking down their tasks, or they might benefit from a working meeting, where everyone meets in person or online to work through their part of the project.

  • Rambler

    This person will often talk at length about anything and everything—basically, everything but the group project. It's important to make sure everyone gets a chance to talk and that one person takes on the role of keeping the group discussion on track.

  • 'Always confused' team member

    This poor soul will try to do their best, but have difficulties contributing good work. This situation might mean the person requires more support in learning the course material outside of your group project. Let them know that Tutoring Services can help!

Now that we've identified some 'difficult' group members, let's look at ways to work with them:

  • Start with a casual hangout

    Get to know each other before your first official group meeting—this step helps to build mutual trust and respect within the team.

  • Create a group contract

    Check out this module's section on Writing a Group Contract to learn more!

  • Set up a consistent meeting time

    Before the semester gets too busy, schedule a regular meeting time and include that in your group contract. This way, everyone can plan their schedules around the meeting time, so there's no excuse not to attend. Check out this module's section on Planning Effective Group Meetings to learn more!

  • If you're meeting in person, bring snacks!

    Take turns bringing small snacks to team meetings! It can help boost attendance, reduce how often people show up late, and make the experience better overall. Make sure to check for any dietary restrictions first so that everyone can participate!

  • Divide tasks based on strengths and interest

    If someone is good at design, they can handle the slide deck; if someone is good at writing, they can edit your report. Make sure the most important part of the project is delegated to someone reliable!

  • Create mini milestones

    Break down larger tasks into smaller parts, and celebrate each time your finish a task! This keeps everyone motivated and on track.

  • Give others space to contribute

    Don't try to take on too much or to over-contribute to the project—give others the chance to share their ideas and take on responsibilities too.

  • Break into smaller groups to accomplish tasks

    If two people are working on the same part of an assignment, they can meet up separately to get things done more efficiently.

  • Document all communications

    If group conflict does come up, it's important to have a record of your decisions and the tasks everyone agreed to complete. Check out the section on Planning Effective Group Meetings to learn about creating meeting agendas and taking meeting minutes!

  • Identify root causes of problems

    If you've identified a 'difficult' group member, ask yourself if there are factors in the group that are causing them to not follow through on their work. This gives you the chance to address the root of the problem before you start assigning blame to each other. Check out the Group Conflict Resolution section to learn how to navigate tough conversations in your group.

  • If you need to, talk to your professor

    This is where it's helpful to have project documentation to support your concerns when talking to your professor.

Solutions for Common Group Problems

Problems are to be expected in group work, but learning to deal with them is an important skill.

Watch the video and check out the boxes below to learn how to work through potential problems in your group.

When group members have conflicting schedules, it can create roadblocks to getting started and continuing projects. Group members may get frustrated when they feel that others aren’t compromising or taking their situation into consideration.

How Do You Handle It?

  • Be understanding: Put yourself in your group members’ shoes.
  • Try taking turns picking the time and location of the meetings.
  • Use alternative forms of communication, such as Microsoft Teams,WebEx, Zoom, or Google Hangouts to create flexible meeting options.

Conflict among group members is natural, but it can also distract you from working on your project and disrupt the collaborative environment of the group. If two group members aren’t speaking to each other, that’s not going to be a very effective team.

How Do You Handle It?

  • Focus on the task. You just need to get along well enough to work on your project together.
  • Try not to let personal feelings affect your work.
  • Be compassionate towards your group members.

A common complaint about group work is that one or two people end up doing most of the work. This imbalance of work creates tension and is unfair to group members.

How Do You Handle It?

  • Set up clear guidelines and expectations at the start of your project. A good way to do this is to create a group contract.
  • Assign roles and responsibilities equally, so each group member knows what they are responsible for accomplishing.
  • If you feel that someone is not meeting their responsibilities, talk to them directly and respectfully.

Are you working towards perfection or just passing? Are you going to work on the project in plenty of time, or procrastinate? Different expectations can create tension because the group is not working towards the same goal.

How Do You Handle It?

  • Communicate your expectations early so that everyone is on the same page.
  • Set realistic goals.
  • Make a timeline of how the project will get done. A good way to do this is to create a group contract.

When you hit a mental roadblock, it is discouraging and can lead to procrastination and avoidance. It can be tempting to put off working on your project until later, and just hope that inspiration strikes at some point in the future. That’s not really a very effective way to work.

How Do You Handle It?

  • Re-read the expectations and goals for the assignment.
  • Brainstorm ideas with the group. You can create a mind map to visualize connected ideas.
  • Seek help.

When members of a group agree with other group members in order to avoid conflict, it is known as ‘group think’. The problem with this situation is that it stifles creativity and constructive evaluation of alternative ideas. There could be a great idea that your group doesn’t pursue because someone might feel uncomfortable disagreeing with the group.

How Do You Handle It?

  • Think critically. Offer alternative ideas, and consider the ideas of others.
  • Embrace diverse opinions. Considering other perspectives and ideas improves your process.

Dealing with Group Problems

Let's test your group problem solving skills! Try this activity from The Learning Portal to learn more: