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Group Work

Understand Your Group

We've learned about the traits of good group members and the importance of positive group dynamics—but what do those practices look like during your first meeting with a new group?

In this section, we'll offer some quick tips to get you started with your new group so you're on the same page before you start your project!

First Steps to Understand Your Group

  • Commit to building positive relationships with your group! Spend time getting to know your group members, so you can all work together as a team! Be open to diverse perspectives and backgrounds.
  • Share individual goals, strengths, and weaknesses without judgement. Discuss preferred work and communication styles to help you negotiate roles for the project.
  • Agree on your group’s primary goals by discussing questions like these:
    • What grade is everyone hoping for and what grade is acceptable or not?
    • How much time and effort can each group member contribute?
    • What time/work/family commitments does each group member face?
    • Where do group members want to contribute based on strengths, interests, or goals?
  • Use the Group Inventory Tool below to identify and share your goals, strengths, weaknesses, constraints etc. and to develop a group contract and ground rules—we'll talk about group contracts in the next section of this module!
  • Remember, you're not alone! Your professor can offer help, clarity, and guidelines along the way.

Reducing Bias in Your Group

We all have bias—especially the unconscious kind—and it’s preventing us from doing our best work. Gone unchecked, bias can make group members feel resentful, frustrated, and silenced, and it can even lead to outright discrimination and harassment.

Watch the video or check the boxes below to learn 3 ways you can reduce bias during your next group project.

More often, bias comes out in the little words and phrases we choose, which are packed with assumptions. In meetings especially, these often go unnoticed or—even worse—people notice but don't know what to say.

Come up with a shared word or a phrase that everyone agrees to use to disrupt bias, attitudes, or behaviours.

For example, using the phrase "purple flag" is used in the video to draw attention to the phrase "blind spots"—one of the speakers has been using sight metaphors that often portray disabilities like visual impairment in negative ways, and she needs her group members to help her notice when she's used those words or phrases.

You can also ask your group members to respond to bias with "I" statements. An "I" statement invites the other person in to understand things from your perspective, rather than calling them out.

For example, "I don't think you're going to take me seriously when you're calling me 'honey'."

Usually when people's biases are pointed out to them clearly and compassionately, they apologize and correct things going forward (usually).

You can start with saying, "Thank you for pointing that out". It took courage for that person to disrupt the bias, so it's important to acknowledge that.

Then, there are 2 choices on what to say next:

  1. "I get it": Use this phrase when you realize you used a biased word right after you said it out loud.
  2. "I don't get it—could you explain more after the meeting?": Use this phrase when you do need clarification about which word or phrase contained bias that you might not be aware of yet.

To get to awareness, it's important to move through any feelings of shame you might have for not knowing you spoke with bias. This shared norm can help you listen and learn rather than getting defensive—having a norm can reassure everyone in the group that other people are making similar kinds of mistakes and that we're all learning together.

Once your group has come up with a shared vocabulary and agrees on a shared norm for how to respond, your group should commit to disrupting bias regularly—at least once in every meeting.

If bias isn't flagged in a meeting, it doesn't mean there wasn't any bias—it just means either no one noticed, or no one knew what to say.

When we are silent about bias, we reinforce it. And it can't just be the targets of bias who point it out.

By making a practice of disrupting bias quickly and kindly, we prevent it from growing into something worse, like prejudice, bullying, discrimination, or harassment.