Group work

The purpose of group work

Working in a group is encouraged since it is known to be a potent learning tool that is also applicable to the workplace. The collective talents of the group members who share their knowledge, abilities, and ideas provide opportunity for deep learning in areas such as: organisation, delegation, effective communication, leadership, and networking.

Watch Purpose of Group Work video

Hey there, my name is Evie and I will be assisting you with understanding the purpose of group work at uni.

You have just been assigned to complete a project for class but this time, you are not alone and need to work in a group. This is going to require some skills and strategies that are different from individual work. Group work projects can be quite extensive for you alone but it is possible to complete with the collective talents of the group members who share their knowledge, abilities and ideas. This way it can be used as a potent learning tool to help you deepen your understanding on topics.

Let's visualise how group work usually occurs. 

When most students do group work, they divide up the tasks, work independently, and then they try to combine the results into something that looks patched together. Imagine that you were assigned a story to write as a group. But if you didn't plan the characters, the settings and the plot as a team, you would end up with an extremely confusing story.

Now let’s look at an alternate way a group work can occur.

The key is to work collaboratively instead of separately where everyone works together to share information, co-creating knowledge and working with the strengths and weaknesses of every member. This way, a clear structure can be created to logically connect various ideas into a grander yet coherent story.

Group work gives you the chance to explore a topic or idea from multiple angles and the opportunity to interact with diverse peers and perspectives. This way, you broaden your understanding and strengthen your interpersonal, planning, organizational and leadership skills.

Successful collaboration occurs when members:

  • set ground rules
  • have clear objectives and goals
  • define roles
  • ensure there is enough time and space
  • communicate effectively
  • monitor progress and stick to deadlines
  • are supportive and responsible.

However, working in groups can be challenging and sometimes groups will fail. The most common reasons groups fail are conflict, ‘social loafing’ (not putting in the work) and lack of leadership and direction. Groups are also said to follow a lifecycle, and by familiarising yourself with that lifecycle, you may be able to better identify and manage issues as they arise (Tuckman 1965).

To maximize the contributions of each group member, it takes patience, effective communication, and dedication. Each participant must concentrate on the process rather than just the outcome for group work to be productive, but importantly, each member should be empowered to contribute in line with their personality, experience, and talents.

To complete a task in a collaborative project, you must go through a number of steps. Planning is essential for productive group work because it provides direction and makes it easier to coordinate your efforts for quick job completion:

  1. Initial Meeting: The first meeting is most important for setting up the basis of the assignment where you brainstorm ideas and develop a detailed plan by using these tools:
    1. Team Charter (PDF) - here you will identify:
      1. Goals and purpose of the project
      2. Team member information
      3. Team functionality
      4. Schedule of assigned task
    2. Group Assignment Plan (PDF) - divide and conquer the tasks:
      1. Breakdown the project into tasks
      2. It is essential that every team member has a role that utilises their strengths, see Belbin’s Team Roles for further information on this
      3. It is important to assign a team lead and scribe to document the group decisions
    3. Group Availability (PDF) - here it is important to consider how to ensure effective communication:
      1. When are team members available across the week?
      2. What shared online platforms can be used?
      3. Monitor developments to ensure that you stick to any deadlines that may have been set.

It is essential to recognise that everyone has an opinion and that everyone learns and works in a different way. Importantly, remember that the person who thinks they’re ‘doing all the work’ is as problematic as the one thought to be "doing nothing".

Although you might want to avoid this, a group without conflict is possibly in danger of stagnation, it can actually help your group to improve, this means it’s important to consider how to respond appropriately to conflict (Stuart, 2015).

There are three main types of conflict:

  1. Goal conflict
  2. Task conflict
  3. Intragroup relationship conflicts

Our Managing Conflict (PDF) resource provides a step-by-step process for you to follow. The video below will also help you understand more about how to resolve conflict in your group.

Video: Group Conflict Resolution

Video transcript

Hi, my name is Yashaan and I will be discussing on how to manage group conflict.

Now, while you have understood the purpose of group work and gained an understanding on the step-by-step process from getting the task at hand to completing the final product, in between you might face various challenges and difficulties. And these challenges and difficulties come in the form of group conflict.

Now talking about conflict. Now there are three types of conflict that you might face in a group setting at the university while doing assignments in a group. Now they are goal conflict, task conflict and intragroup relationship conflict.

So what exactly are these three types of conflicts. Well, a goal conflict is a conflict that occurs when certain members want to achieve a passing grade whereas others want to achieve the highest grade in the assignment. It’s a conflict of goals.

A task conflict is a disagreement among members of your group regarding ideas and opinions about the task going to be performed or disagreements regarding the outline of the assignment. These disagreements are considered as a task conflict.

Now, intragroup relationship conflict are disagreements or incompatibilities among group members about personal issues which are not related to the assignment, they are relationship-based conflict.

Now, Let’s take you through a step-by-step procedure on handling a Goal Conflict situation. Lets say, during your brainstorm sessions you have identified that some members aren’t prioritising the assignment at hand. While other members are very active and contributing proactively.

This situation could be because there exists to be a goal conflict. The group might have different expectations of the outcomes of the assignment. Some members want to contribute and prioritise the group work in the anticipation of getting the best grade, while some members just contribute to a minimum capacity.

How do you as a leader or a member of this group resolve this problem?

Step number one. Now, as a group you must explicitly state that there exists to be a conflict. Why should you do this? Well, having this conversation is a very honest and transparent approach to conflict resolution. You are adopting the problem-solving approach of conflict resolution.

Second step. Now, as a group, you must go around to each person to seek their thoughts and reasons for this particular ideology. Why?, you ask again. Well, it is very important for these thoughts and emotions to be expressed and acknowledged prior to any resolution process to maintain clear and transparent communication within the group.

Step number three. This is the time to clearly define your conflict in the group meeting and acknowledge that this particular conflict or problem exists.

The actual resolution of the problem starts with step number four. Step number four states that you must try to identify common areas of agreement within the group. It can be an agreement on the existence of the conflict or agreement on the purpose of resolving this conflict, it can also be agreement on accountability.

Step number five states that identify as a group probable solutions to this particular conflict. Now, you as a member or a leader must chart down a list of probable solutions for this particular conflict.

Now, For example it can be – If we each invest 4 hrs in doing this particular assignment the probable outcome will be a high distinction. Or if we follow an “X” way of doing things, we might not achieve a high distinction but at least we might get a “Distinction”.</p?

Now, once these probable solutions with the anticipated outcomes are presented to each member of the group we can move on to the next step.

The next step. The group members must make the effort to seek agreement upon one solution, it can also be two solutions. You as a leader must strive to seek agreement on one probable solution or maybe two. For example – as a group you have identified that 2 of the 4 probable solutions are extremely unacceptable, now you then eliminate those solutions. The whole process of seeking confirmation repeats with the rest of the two options available we just stated out in step number five.

Now, while as a group you must strive to agree upon on a said plan of action, if complications arise and you have identified that there is no agreement. You must make the effort to seek or contact various support services provided by the university. If as a group, there seems to be agreement on some set plan of action, seek individual consent and agreement on that particular plan of action. It just makes life easy.

Congratulations on reaching this stage of the resolution process, you as a group have already resolved the conflict. But this stage is very important. Why you ask? Well, it is important because this particular stage will help you to avoid the conflict to reoccur. How do we do that? Well, to do that we need to establish a follow up procedure.

Now, in this particular procedure, one member must either be elected or volunteer to take the responsibility of being the advocate of the individual members concerns. Now, this will ensure that if the conflict arises again the whole process of the conflict resolution can take place and if there does not seem to be any agreement on any solution, the group must consult the university support services.

Now, it is very important to note that a functional group on the concept of trust, accountability and responsibility. And this whole process of conflict resolution is also known as the Problem-Solving and Collaborative approach of conflict resolution.

Knowing when to reach out for additional support is important – there are two approaches to this:

  • Subject Coordinators
  • Subject tutors

Our Additional Support for Group Work (PDF) resource provides an overview on guidance for group-related conflict. The video below also outlines tips for you.

Video: Additional support services for group work

Video transcript

Hey there, my name is Alana and I will be directing you to additional support services.

While we’ve discussed a few techniques to address issues that arise when working in a group, sometimes you may need additional support. There are three groups of individuals who you can reach out to for further support and advice in group conflict. These are: the Learning Co-op, your tutors, and the subject coordinator. So how can these groups help?

Firstly, the Learning Co-op is a great resource to assist in the planning of assessment tasks. If your group is struggling to decide on the plan and approach of the assessment, the Peer Academic Coaches can help. They can offer assistance in approaching assessment tasks, finding academic resources, and developing study tips, to help manage the group’s time effectively. 

Another really important resource is your tutor. For issues surrounding the completion of the assessment, your tutor can provide guidance, helping to ensure your group has the correct understanding of the task. Additionally, they are the best people to talk to if your group is having conflicts between members, or issues completing the task. You can book consultations online or in-person, both as a group or individually to talk through any issues you are having. 

Finally, you can also talk to your subject coordinator for assistance in group conflict. Similar to your tutor, the subject coordinator can help clarify misunderstandings surrounding the assessment task and support indifferences between group members. The subject coordinator may be your best point of contact for more serious issues that arise in group work, such a member not participating. You can both email or book a consultation for advice and support in group related issues.

We know it may be hard to find the correct contact information. Here’s where you can find each groups information. To see a peer academic coach from the learning co-op, you can book an online consultation or visit the library itself during the semester. A subject coordinator or tutor’s information can be found in your subject outline, or the online Moodle page.


Tuckman B 1965, ‘Developmental sequence in small groups’, Psychological Bulletin, vol.63, no.6, pp.384–399.

Stuart G 2015, 12 principles of a problem solving approach to conflict resolution, Sustaining Community, blog, 14 December, viewed 2 December 2022,