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How to Work in a Group : Guidelines and Tips

Updated on May 5, 2012

Cohesive Unit


How to behave in an official group

Group work or working as a cohesive team of members, capable of pooling together ideas and thoughts for a desirable end result, has become a common practice in today’s fast paced world. Not only is the work scenario demanding, but competitive too. Surprisingly even those of us who are reluctant to jump headfirst into team work, have learned a few early life lessons that mould us to face this very situation. As for me, I divide group work at different stages in life into three broad categories:

i) Phase 1/ Playground Phase: Your training in the difficult skill of group work starts right from the good old days when your parents dropped you off in playschool. You relish a day spent mostly learning new words and rocking on a toy horse. With just three rocking horses available, you can’t afford to be late next time; lest someone else take over your favourite plaything. However, when such a scenario presents itself, you calm down (after throwing a fit, if you are that petulant) and wait in line (or just loom around) for your chance, watching the other kid perched atop your horse. With time though, you start a conversation about your pet hamster and his/her pet cat. A few days later, you don’t mind him/her joining your side to solve that tricky jigsaw you couldn’t complete yesterday. Maybe a week later, a small crowd of curious youngsters tired of the horses (like you) joins the twosome of you and your new ‘mate’. Here you’ve inculcated some of the finer points of team work, though in small doses. You just aren’t aware at the time.

ii) Phase 2/Classroom Phase: Classroom coaching basically involves working with classmates on a common project/assignment with a set deadline. Unfortunately (as it happens with most of us), you are teamed up with some students who you’ve never bothered to socialize with before. The time allotted is mostly short and you are compelled to establish a tentative truce, if not a strong friendship with your team. If you are lucky enough, they’d too be interested in a good grade on the project/assignment. However if that isn’t the case, you’d be compelled to sharpen the arsenal of traits you incorporated in your character way back in playschool. You try to hold up your end of the bargain and get the work done. The outcome is adequate and your mindset is normal, if not excellent, as you’d imagined in the playground.

iii) Phase 3/Office(Adult)Phase: Then comes a time in life when mere tolerance isn’t enough to get you through group activity. If you failed to integrate the skills required, during Phases 1 and 2, chances are that you wouldn’t be quite successful when it comes to more work and less play. Adults (or mature individuals as we call ourselves) have a tendency to rub against each other the wrong way. However, office time doesn’t allow you to engage in petty squabbles, name-calling or ego issues. Maybe you’d like to teach a few team members a thing or two about personal hygiene; but not at the risk of your big project. Most times you grind your teeth and swim through with little ease and more compromise.

Well, we’ve all moved ahead of the first two (three?) phases and are most likely stuck in phase 3. How to go about handling a group that may not always be comprised of people you can tolerate? I list below a few guidelines that have helped me in numerous awkward and tense situations.

a) Patience: Yes, this is a highly overrated quality, yet one that you need in spades when it comes to group work. Perhaps you’d be more comfortable working alone than with a team. Never mind. If the situation demands group work, you’d better try and keep your cool. It is difficult to put up with those having habits that irritate you. Overlook them if you cannot ignore. Do not try to better/improve the character of a team mate. You are assigned to work together, not to advocate a personality development campaign. Stick to the matter at hand and never try to convert the laid back ones with your strict professor persona.

b) Avoid Leadership: This is an important thing that you need to keep in mind while working as a group. A group doesn’t need a leader/manager. As adults, you are to work in an amicable environment to produce quality output. Being in a group automatically means that you are to contribute and let others contribute as well. No matter how irrelevant you think someone’s opinion to be, listen and include them in an orderly fashion. Usually during brainstorming sessions, one tries to overrule the others. This is not the way to handle a group. Just like a discussion is different than a debate, group job means equal participation.

c) Clean and amicable setting: No matter how much you love brainstorming in a pub, curb the instinct. Your subordinates may like the setting of the canteen/library better. Learn to compromise. Do not let them take over your decision; try and reach a common ground.

d) Impersonal: Keep private and professional lives separate. This isn’t required should you be working with friends/family/partners. However with strangers, it is better to get work done first and gossip later. Later on, you might like to carry on a friendship. But for the time being, try and avoid adorning the role of counselor/teacher/priest/solid rock for a team member.

e) Finance Tab: Keep a watchful eye when it comes to money matters. You aren’t rich enough to take up all expenses (pertaining to the job) on your own or cheap enough to lounge around while others spend their hard earned money. Let it all be precise with no scope for cheating.

f) Schedule: Plan a schedule that everyone can adhere to. Set your priorities around the job. Do not try to force the rest of the group to obey your set timetable. Discuss patiently, and ensure that you maintain regular meetings so that the project does not suffer.

g) Credit Give/Take: When someone in the group comes up with an innovative plan or idea, encourage and add your two cents. Give and take credit for work done; this is an excellent stepping stone for a sound working relationship even in the future.

h) Maintain a backup: All right, so maybe even with your endless bout of patience, some members fail to cooperate. Do not be hassled. Following the first tip, maintain your cool and try to come up with a backup plan with members willing to work with you. They too should maintain a trove of things to do should such a situation arise. You should realze that the work needs to been done for your own good. If nothing works, at least you have a back up.

If you try following these guidelines, I’m sure all forms of group activity will turn out to be a cakewalk. This is a tried, tested and foolproof plan. It is bound to work; at least for the required period of time.

What to avoid



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