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LEARNING IN GROUPS. Being a Responsible and Effective Group Member
Author: ADMIN (ukstudent at gmail dot com)
Published: Wed, 27-Jul-2005
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LEARNING IN GROUPS. Being a Responsible and Effective Group Member. Article by APU Student Services


Share your ideas about the group’s purpose and direction.

If the group’s purpose and objectives are not clear, or seem unrealistic, suggest that they need to be clarified/renegotiated.

The group purpose should be SMART:

Realistic and relevant

Always keep the group’s objectives in mind – don’t pursue your own agenda.


Be aware of the stages in development a group is likely to go through:

Forming: getting to know each other. People may play safe, make few
contributions, rely on group leader, hide true feelings, be passive, conform.

Storming: People may start to feel dissatisfied, worry that things won’t get
done, vie for leadership, be anxious about leadership challenges.

Norming: getting used to working together, setting ground rules/norms, developing relationships/alliances, exploring ways of achieving things, expressing/sharing feelings; finding ways of solving problems.

Performing: getting on with things, working in atmosphere of cohesion and trust

Be clear about what’s expected of you.

Do what you’ve agreed to do before the next seminar/group meeting – e.g. read selected material, research an issue.

List key points and questions to raise in discussion.


Come with the results of the task you’ve been allocated.

Play a full, active role in the work of the group.

Contribute to discussion:

• Raise at least one point/question on your list.
• Listen actively and respectfully to others.
• Demonstrate active/respectful listening through body language and facial expression.
• Make notes.
• Comment on what others say – to reinforce, paraphrase, clarify, support, disagree, suggest alternatives.
• If expressing disagreement, offer constructive criticism and avoid attacking the individual.
• Invite contributions from others
• Don’t dominate the discussion.
• Don’t act in an authoritarian way.
• Be assertive but not aggressive.
• Be prepared to compromise.
• Don’t take criticism personally.

Personal role

Be aware of the needs of the group and the different roles performed by different group members, including yourself.

Use your personal skills and strengths to fulfil your role and further the group’s objectives.

Common group roles include:
• Leader – takes charge, leads the group, acts as figurehead.
• Inspirer – offers ideas, motivates others, inspires the group.
• Communicator – communicates on behalf of the group or facilitates communication within it.
• Director – guides the direction of the group without leading it.
• Administrator – helps ensure the smooth running of the group by organising meetings, taking notes etc.
• Organiser – takes an active role in organising the group’s work.

Try out different roles and encourage others to do the same e.g. be prepared to take the lead or step back; rotate role of note taker.

Personal skills development

Be aware of and make the most of your personal strengths. See self assessment sheet.

Be prepared to develop the skills you are less confident with.

Skills needed in group work include:

• Self awareness.
• Communication skills.
• Observation skills.
• Leadership skills.
• Organisational skills.
• Interpersonal skills.

Problem people and how to deal with them

It may be helpful to enlist the support of other group members in responding to any individual whose behaviour is causing problems. Talking to a tutor or lecturer may also sometimes be necessary. Typical "problem people" might be:

The monopoliser – dominates discussion. Try:

Diverting attention away from him/her: "That’s one suggestion; what do others think?"

Interrupting: " I’m going to interrupt you now because other people haven’t had a chance to speak."

Asking for a contribution from each person one by one.

Change the structure of the group e.g. by forming several smaller groups, where his/her influence has less effect and might be tackled on a one to one basis.

The silent member – never makes contributions. May be preoccupied, shy, bored, intimidated by others, dissatisfied with direction of group, thinking but not ready yet to disclose their thoughts. Try:

Bring into the discussion: "And what do you think?"

Invite each person in turn to say something.

Challenge them to say what the problem is.

The saboteur – deliberately undermines the group in what he/she says or does.

Needs to be challenged at some point. Try to find out why they want to undermine the group.

The joker – makes a joke of everything and everyone.

Needs to be made aware of the effect of his/her attitude on the group. May need to be told how you and others feel – either within or outside the group setting.

The know it all – can’t be told anything he/she didn’t already know, has a comment on anything.

Ask why the group can’t seem to offer him/her anything new or interesting.

Further reading:

The Study Skills Handbook (Second Edition) by Stella Cottrell

© Copyright for this article belongs to APU Student Services

This document was re-printed with the kind permission of Susan Butler. Original Source of the article is located here: http://web.apu.ac.uk/stu_services/essex/learningsupport/LearninginGroups.htm

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