Information on how to get the best out of group activities
Advice and resources to help you develop collaborative working skills.
Most careers involve working as part of a team and being able to work effectively in a group is a skill highly valued by employers. It demonstrates that you have developed good interpersonal, communication and time management skills as well as being able to deal with challenges associated with team work.
In many careers, advances in technology and the global economy mean your team members may be based in different parts of the world. It is important that you are able to work in different types of groups, interacting both face to face and by using technology.
Most of your courses will involve group discussion and many require students to work in a group on a project that will be assessed. Group work brings together people with different skills, knowledge and experiences. It allows students to come together to consider a range of views to address problems by developing creative solutions.
Meetings, roles and ground rules
Whether your group is small or large you will need to focus on the task and everyone will need to contribute to reach your common goal. It’s a good idea to draw up a list of roles for the task. For example, you might like to designate a leader, a note taker for meetings and a ‘finisher’ who takes responsibility for pulling all the work together.
Having a set of ground rules can help to make sure your group achieves their purpose. Make sure that you record the agreed responsibilities of each role.
At your first meeting, you might like to agree on the following:
- How will the group communicate (e.g. by email, by social media, using Microsoft Teams)?
- How frequently will the group meet? Where will you meet?
- When are the deadlines?
- What are the group’s aims and objectives?
- Who will take on which roles? Will these be fixed or rotated?
- What strengths do members bring to the group? Who will do which tasks? How will they be achieved?
You might like to record what you have agreed in a project management sheet. Here is a template you can use.
Communicating and meeting
The effectiveness and success of group projects depends on team members communicating well. You are likely to be working with people you don’t know very well and we advise that you always use your University email address
Office 365: Every student at the University of Edinburgh has access to Office 365 and has a university email address. Office 365 is designed for collaboration and enables you to work collectively by scheduling meetings, sending email and working on documents together. You can create a new Group within Office 365 email to send group emails and allow your group to work on the same projects. Office 365 apps include One Drive, SharePoint, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. SharePoint can be used for document sharing and collaboration.
Office 365 provides access to Microsoft Teams, a secure hub for 1:1 or group chat, audio/video meetings which integrates with the University Outlook address book, Calendar and other Office 365 apps. You can hold virtual meetings and communicate by message. Please note the University of Edinburgh's policies on Information Security and Data Protection apply when using Microsoft Teams (sometimes called information governance).
Blackboard Collaborate is the university supported virtual classroom and meeting tool. Students can create and access Blackboard Collaborate sessions directly in the Collaborate channel in MyEd.
If you are able to meet in person, study space for groups is available in the Main Library, at King’s Buildings and in teaching rooms across the campus. Some rooms can be booked in advance.
Show respect and stay safe
The University is committed to providing an environment in which all members of the University community treat each other with dignity and respect. The Dignity and Respect Policy sets out the expectations placed on everyone. The Students’ Association Advice Place has trained advisors who offer independent advice and support.
Stay safe while you are learning online. Learn how to build up your digital resilience and protect yourself from cyber threats. Find out about the responsible use of technology to learn and participate online (including the computing regulations and the rules around information security).
Develop your group and team skills
You might want to develop your group working skills through extra-curricular activities such as helping to run a club or society, volunteering, getting involved in a social enterprise or a peer learning or peer support project. These experiences can be invaluable for improving confidence and learning to work as a team.
Employers value these sorts of experiences and you can use them to work towards an Edinburgh Award.
Reflecting on your recent experience of group working will help you to identify your strengths and help you to identify areas you need to work on to become a more effective team contributor. You can use the University’s Reflection Toolkit to help you do this.
Stages of group working
Bruce Tuckman developed a model of group development that may be useful when working in groups. Tuckman suggested that groups have four phases that they need to go through. These phases are not always sequential – group work is messy, and groups may move between phases.
The four phases are:
Forming: the group is coming together, although group members are usually still acting in an independent manner. Group members begin to get to know each other in a social sense and start the process of working out their role in the team.
Storming: group members are working out how the group will function and trying to accommodate differences in skills and personalities. This can be a challenging stage and some groups never get past it, but with respect for each other it is possible to come through as a strong team.
Norming: the group settles down, and members begin to work together.
Performing: the group works well together towards a common aim.
The aim of group work is to get to the point where group members work well together, with each team member being an effective contributor and members being respectful of each other’s skills and differences.
Clear communication and clear expectations are key to ensuring that a group will be successful.
Reference: Tuckman, Bruce W. (1965) ‘Developmental sequence in small groups’, Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384-399.
Is your group not meeting the expectations set out at the start? Are people not turning up to meetings? If your group isn’t working effectively, approach this as an opportunity for learning. If possible, talk to group members to find a solution. If that’s not possible, then you may need to contact the course leader to discuss options. Don’t wait till the last minute: identify and address problems and issues as they arise.