Skills for Business and Management

by Martin Sedgley

Group work

Video: Students’ challenges – members not attending / doing work. (Coming soon)

Anchoring - Instructions for Activity 10.1

Engagement and commitment of group members

Business and management programmes tend to have a particularly high proportion of group work assessments. The rationale for this is the importance placed on communication skills by graduate employers. However, group work is often cited by students as the most challenging aspect of their university study. This is the reason that two chapters of the textbook are devoted to this complex issue.

In Chapter 10 on getting started on group work, you will find some helpful tips and techniques for working through a constructive process over several meetings that engages all the members of your team. This process is covered in detail in Chapter 10, and briefly summarised below:

Five phases of effective group work

Phase 1 : Involve everyone by gathering first thoughts.

Effective group work depends on you all building a team relationship. This is a process that takes time, but it is important to start your first meeting by engaging everyone. Everyone should introduce themselves, and offer their initial view of the project goal and possible strategy for achieving that.

Phase 2 : Affirm ideas from Phase 1.

People engage when they feel valued. Actively respect individual’s contributions at this early stage, even though their ideas may not eventually be the approach the group decides to follow.

Phase 3 : Consider alternative views and counter-arguments.

Only after reflecting the positive possibilities offered in the first two phases, should you begin to bring in other ideas, and start to narrow down the realistic strategies for action.

Phase 4 : Establish objectives for the group and specific tasks for each member.

Check that everyone understands the consensus for how the group has agreed to tackle the project. Confirm individual tasks with discussion as required.

Phase 5 : Commit everyone to specific outcomes, deadlines and future participation.

It is vital to engage all members’ commitment to the group objectives, along with what is required of each of them and by when. Everyone should commit the next meeting date to their calendars at this point.

Video Need to meet regularly and converge ideas & Do difficult parts first, and consult with tutor (coming soon)

Managing conflict

However well you try to organise your group-work, conflict between members can still arise due to personality / cultural clashes, or simply through different attitudes to the value and purpose of the group-work itself. At such times, it is easy for the communication to deteriorate into a ‘blame-game’. However, the only person’s thoughts and actions that you can really control are your own . This section offers an opportunity for you to reflect on how you can take personal responsibility for your contributions to the group-work, and in turn perhaps influence others’ behaviour positively too.

Listen first to the audio explanation of the Self-empowerment Model, and then try that out for yourself.

The self-empowerment model (Box 11.3)

Exercise: Self-empowerment model practice

Box 11.3 in the textbook explains how you can use this tool to reframe your perceptions of other group members’ challenging behaviour. This will enable you to approach subsequent meetings more constructively, which in turn may produce more satisfying outcomes. An example is also provided in the textbook so that you fully understand how to practise the technique.

Practise the self-empowerment technique yourself now with an interpersonal challenge that you are currently experiencing. The instructions and questions are reproduced for you below:

Write a statement that captures in just a few words your unmet expectation of someone, i.e. what you think s/he should or should not be doing:

Having written a statement that describes how you believe that other person should be acting differently, you can then interrogate that expectation by writing your instinctive responses to the four questions proposed in Mitchell’s (2002) model:

  1. Is it true that they should be acting in that way?
  2. Are you sure it is true?
  3. What do you feel, think and do when you believe this?
  4. How would you be if you let go of that thought?

Then you turn around the original statement and find out how one or more of those turnarounds may free you up in some way from your stress. Write those turnarounds below:

Video: Students’ perceptions of value of group work (coming soon).