Be an Effective Group Member in Graduate School

Learning how to be an effective group member is one of the core lessons in graduate school. As a graduate student, you’re going to have to work as part of a group at some point in the course of your program. If doing so makes your stomach churn with unease, it might be helpful to view the experience as a great opportunity for growth.

To grow, it’s necessary to get uncomfortable. It’s through facing challenges that you will learn what you’re capable of doing in this world. If you dream of a career filled with purpose and fulfillment, learning to work well with others is crucial. When you succeed as part of a group, you become an empowered professional who can empathize, lead, draw upon the strengths of others, collaborate, and essentially add great value to yourself and others.

Valuable Skills Gained through Group Work:

  •    Collaboration
  •    Group project management skills
  •    Advancement in critical thinking
  •    Openness to critique
  •    Active listening skills
  •    Adaptability to change

Overcoming the Dread of Group Work

You might shy away from being a group member because you fear others will not pull their own weight and you will be stuck doing all the hard work yourself. You may be concerned your grade will suffer and that you will not get everything you want out of the course as a result of being paired with people who do not have your same passion and knowledge base. These are all legitimate concerns.

One thing to help you overcome your dread of working in a group is to make it a goal to learn from the experience. Learn from the good and the bad. Study how to lead and how to be a good listener. Acquire the knowledge of how to adapt to other people’s personalities and structures.

Value of Group Work

Group work within graduate school is simply a microcosm of what’s to come in the real world. Notwithstanding, not every career will require collaborative efforts. But, a majority will. And a great place to figure out your grounding and get balance by working out the kinks is in a classroom full of people eager to figure out the same things. Collaborative skills are not necessarily innate, after all. They, often times, must be learned and practiced.

It’s all in the Attitude

What you seek in any given situation, you will find. So, if you seek to be empowered with a new challenge and opportunity to produce dynamic work through a group assignment, guess what you will find?

Let’s assume you’re in graduate school to better your life and career. Being an effective group member will give you the leverage you need to improve valuable skill sets that will help you in this goal toward betterment.

And if career advancement is your goal, look at it this way suggests Delece Smith-Barrrow, US News, in an article she wrote on group work: “Learning to work in small groups, which often range from two to six people, can pay off when it’s time to look for a job, experts say.”

Essential Skills of a Group Member

  • Able to articulate ideas
  • Express feelings in a non-threatening, open manner
  • Listening actively
  • Asking questions to clarify others’ ideas and emotions
  • In tune with others nonverbal communication
  • Facilitate conversations when conflict arises
  • Lead by example as a contributing, valuable member willing to engage, reflect, and to give and accept constructive feedback

How to Approach Being a Group Member

To truly succeed in a group, you must bring your best into it. There are certain ways to structure a group to help everyone get on the same page and start working like a well-oiled machine.

Set clear expectations through a group charter.

According to Dr. Carla Patalano, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, in her article Taking the Groan out of Group Work in Graduate School, it might be helpful to create written, agreed-upon expectations. These expectations should cover the what, when, who, and how elements of tasks to be performed. This is the time to iron out specifics like response time expectations, workload, and delivery methods. By clearly communicating and agreeing upon these elements right from the start, students free themselves to focus on the work at hand and allow for the important creation of a sense of accountability towards each other.

Determine Roles

Before any work is done as a group member, decide who will lead, who will take notes, who will manage project timelines, who will edit, and who will present which part. When you know what you’re supposed to do, the work flows better.

Meeting Times

How often will you meet? Where will you meet (specific location or online platform)? If you miss, how will you make it up/catch up? How often do you report back on progress and how?

Ways to be More Effective

Use these simple strategies to be more effective in a group setting.

1. Share the Workload

Be that person others can count on to hold up their end of the work. Make sure your contribution is fair and equitable in relation to others.

2. Be Reliable

Put other people at ease by living up to what you agreed upon in terms of your role(s) and deadlines. Be the one others look up to as a role model of excellence, leading by example by treating others how you’d want to be treated.

3. Be Mindful of your Behavior

When working in a team dynamic, you must consider the feelings of others and how your actions or inactions will affect them. It should be your goal to create an environment that fosters trust, predictability, and respect. When debating an aspect, do so from a place of wanting to understand rather than to be understood.

4. Communicate

Verbal and nonverbal communication is key to solidifying the success of any group. Most people avoid conflict because they feel it undermines the vibrational state by which greatness forms. Conflict is only a negative when it turns negative due to poor communication strategies. If while working in a group, things aren’t going as planned, someone must speak up in a constructive way. Talking it out is the only way to solve potential negative outcomes. Having written clear expectations is invaluable when negativity pops onto the scene. It’s a way to remind others in a professional, positive manner what they agreed to and how it’ll benefit everyone if they keep up their end.

Let’s face it, critical conversations are not comfortable. They are necessary, though, if someone is sucking the steam out of your group instead of fueling it.

Another aspect of communication is taking on the responsibility of truthfulness when agreeing to expectations. This is your chance to speak up and inform others about your schedule, how you best work, your strengths, and even your weaknesses. If everyone knows upfront what is at stake, you place yourself at a greater position to be successful.

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