Two kinds of work must be shared: to make the team function and the task to be performed.
Making the team function
An effective team requires the following roles to work efficiently. It is useful to explicitly allocate these functions.
- Facilitator or leader (depending on context)
for making sure the aims of the meeting are clarified and for summarising discussions and decisions; to ensure the meeting keeps on track and ground rules are followed.
- Note taker
to keep a record of ideas that are discussed and decisions that are made and who is doing what.
- Time keeper
to make sure that you discuss everything you need to in the time available for the meeting.
- Progress chaser
to chase people up and make sure that the jobs get done by the time agreed and sort out problems if they are not.
- Process watcher
someone who has an eye on process rather than content and can bring problems to the attention of the team. It is important to be positive in this role and not judgemental.
to compile contributions, identify gaps or overlaps, and ensure consistency in the final submission.
Sharing the task
Tasks need to be broken down into smaller parts and scheduled. Sometimes one part cannot be started until another part is finished so it may be worth drawing a simple time line.
- Consider the resources that you have and those that you will need to find.
- Define the outcome required.
- Consider how will you know when you have done it well enough?
- Divide the tasks among the team and
- Set the deadlines for the sub-tasks and times for future meetings.
Three methods are possible (and acceptable).
- One person writes the lot -this tends to mean a narrow range of idea are used and the rest of the team don’t learn from the activity of preparing the report.
- Each person writes one bit - it is then hard to make a single coherent report and you don’t learn about much except your own section.
- Joint writing. This is the most productive way of approaching group tasks, and ensures the greatest benefits from collaboration. Eg: Each section has a writer and at least one reviewer with each team member being both a writer and a reviewer of some section. The final product should be reviewed by all team members prior to finalisation by the editor. Alternatively you can have a single writer with others editing, adding and proof reading and someone tidying up the finished report.
Check the following:
- Is the objective of the exercise clear from the report?
- Are the conclusions or recommendations clear?
- Do conclusions follow from the body of the report?
- Do the sections fit together well?
- Does the report achieve the objectives (and the assessment criteria)?
- Are the required components adequately covered?
Whichever method you use, all group members should agree on the process, and how they are going to maximise the collaborative approach to writing.
Writing collaboratively is one of the trickiest parts of group work. There are many ways to do this, and your group will have to resolve how to divide the work of writing, collating, editing and putting the final touches on your work. Writing by committee (six people crowded around a keyboard) is a recipe for conflict and lack of progress. The other extreme, where one person takes the most responsibility and ends up doing most of the work, is also unproductive and promotes resentment.
Try to divide the initial writing into tasks, and tackle these individually or in pairs. Once the first drafts of the components have been written, circulate all the components and read them. You will probably need to get together to discuss how to marry them together so that they are consistent with one another. Any members who were not involved in the initial writing can do some of this work. Then edit, improve and polish the manuscript.
Circulate the files as online discussion attachments, or set up a Google doc or Wiki for everyone to add to. If using attachments, ensure that everybody knows who has and is working on the current version; otherwise it becomes
Monitoring group effectives and overcoming problems
The checklist at the end of this document provides a list of common issues that emerge in group work. Use it regularly to identify problems before they get out of hand. If major problems and tensions do arise, use it to identify where things may be going wrong. First answer each question about yourself, then answer it about the group as a whole. Then get together as a group and discuss where each of you think there may be problems and consider how you might overcome these problems.
Group tasks and assignments may mean that marks are assigned to everybody in the group based on the result for the whole group. It is in everybody's interest to ensure an effective contribution from all group members, to make sure that the finished assignment is of high quality. Sometimes a system of peer assessment will be used to determine the relative contributions of everyone to the group process. This could be used to moderate the marks for the assignment, or simply as a way to provide feedback on your group work skills.