Bad experiences with uncommitted teammates, conflict, and a lack of clear direction have led some students to view “group work” as a dirty term. However, it may be that these students simply haven’t been introduced to the steps involved in becoming an effective group. Thus, before you assign a group project, it may help to provide your class with guidelines that will lead them to success — rather than frustration or discord.

What actions and behaviors lead to a successful group experience? In McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, Svinicki and McKeachie offer students the following suggestions:

  1. Make sure that all group members have an opportunity to contribute to all stages of the assignment, from the planning stages to completion of the tasks.
  2. Be sure that each individual’s ideas and contributions are respected and considered.
  3. Silence does not necessarily indicate unanimity. Check in with each group member regarding his or her opinion on a given aspect of the project.
  4. Set goals for each part of the project, with the awareness that these goals may change or evolve as you work.
  5. Break up the assignment into discrete tasks, and assign these tasks to different group members. Confirm that everyone is clear regarding the expectations surrounding their particular tasks; likewise, confirm that all are aware of the due dates you’ve set as a group.
  6. Establish — and agree to — the time, location, and agenda for each group meeting. This will help ensure that everyone shows up at the right place at the right time, ready to work on the appropriate tasks.
  7. Evaluate your process as you go, and consider what refinements you would make along the way… not just at the end of the project. (p.199)

By following these suggestions, students should be able to achieve the goals of your group assignments with greater satisfaction.

For additional information on successful group projects, read a previous article on “Making the Grade in Group Presentations.”

Do you have stories of successful group work? Share them with us in the comments.

Reference: Content adapted from Svinicki, Marilla and McKeachie, Wilbert J. 2011. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. 13th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.