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6 Benefits of Group Work
Working on your own can sometimes feel easier. It can be efficient, you can work on the project in your own time, and you can control the whole processes.
There are some good reasons to get involved in group work, though. Whether it’s forced upon you by your teacher or boss, or it’s a study group you arrange with your friends, group work can be useful in helping you to deepen your knowledge and understanding of issues.
Below, I outline six top benefits of group work.
1. You get a variety of perspectives
Working in a group enables you to examine topics from the perspectives of others. When you are required to discuss a topic and negotiate how to address it, you are forced to listen to other people’s ideas. Their ideas will then influence your own thinking and broaden your horizons. Your group members aren’t just fellow learners, they’re also your teachers.
The point of group work is that being social significantly enhances learning. Not only do you have to hear others’ perspectives, you also have to compare, contrast and integrate their perspectives into your own thinking. Perhaps someone else’s perspective will change your mind or show weaknesses in your own ideas. Only through engaging with others can your perspectives change.
The point here is not to simply change your perspective, but also to sharpen it. Your team members are not opponents whose minds you want to change. They are collaborators on a project in which you are collectively trying to develop a shared understanding of a topic in which the group’s final, shared, perspective is sharper, richer and more dynamic as a result of the collaboration. Group work is great for improving your critical thinking skills and making you a sharper thinker.
So, the next time you work in a group remember this: listen to others’ perspectives and see how their views can sharpen your own. Remember your view is malleable and should change as a result of the interaction. By the end of the group process, you’ll be smarter and more insightful than you were at the start.
2. You improve your vocabulary
In second language learning, interactions with others is widely accepted as the best way to learn. You’ll often hear English language teachers talk about situated learning. This is when a learner of English is thrown into a social situation and forced to interact in English in order to successfully navigate the social situation. The point of this task is to force the learner how language works in real life.
You may not realise it, but the same goes for you in all group work situations. Even if English is your first language, when you’re forced to interact with others you learn how they speak about a topic more effectively. You will learn words and phrases that are effective at explaining a phenomenon, and you’ll learn to discard the words and phrases that seem ineffective in explaining your point of view to others.
By the end of the group work process, you might start explaining concepts in a new way. You might also integrate new words and phrases into your explanations of topics. Imagine if, at the end of a group project, you presented the topic to a class or teacher and started using words and phrases you never would have thought of before working in a group. Your teacher will be impressed by your improved vocabulary and you’ll be on your way to increasing your grades.
3. You learn to teach
Sometimes you’re the expert in the group. This can be frustrating if you don’t have the right mindset about the topic. However, being the most knowledgeable person in a group does not mean you won’t get a lot out of group work.
Being the teacher within a group requires you to refine your knowledge. Even if you think you know all of what needs to be known, you will still need to be able to organize that knowledge enough to teach it to people in a way that makes sense to them.
As a part of the process of teaching information to your peers, you will find you need to break concepts down into easy-to-manage steps. Jerome Bruner used the term ‘scaffolding’ to explain how a teacher presents information in bite-sized chunks. You’ll keep delivering little bits of information until the learner has built up all of the knowledge to fully understand a topic on their own.
So, even if you’re more knowledgeable than your team members, you’re still going to get a lot out of group work. It will sharpen your understanding of a topic and make you even more of an expert than you were before!
4. You learn to manage personalities
One of the major reasons many people scoff at group work is that you have to work with people you might clash with.
This might not necessarily only be because you have personality differences. You may also have competing learning preferences. If one group member is a quiet, bookish and introverted learner and another is a boisterous and chatty learner, there might be a clash of learning approaches. This can cause problems in a group.
The path through this challenge is to change your mindset. If you’re in a group that has personality clashes, view the group learning scenario as your chance to develop the valuable real-life skill of managing people. It’s an essential skill for workplace cohesion, but also in your real life: most families experience competing personalities every thanksgiving dinner!
Taking the reins in a group work situation and finding a path through competing personalities makes you a much better people person. Some paths through such a challenge could include setting rotating team roles.
Team roles could include: note taker, timekeeper, resource investigator, and coordinator. The note taker can ensure everything that gets discussed is written down; the timekeeper ensures the group stays on task and completes all tasks on time, the resource investigator uses the internet and library to gather deeper information for the team and the coordinator ensures all team members’ opinions are heard. Try to rotate these roles each time the group meets.
5. You can leverage talent
We often find we have different skillsets to our friends. In fact, we may have different approaches to learning as well! This diversity of skills can be a huge benefit of group work.
Your interactions with team members who are more talented at certain tasks give you an opportunity for self-improvement. The team member who is excellent at creatively putting together group presentations can give the whole group tips on how to improve the final product. The team member who is gifted at research can support the group in gathering data for enhancing the group’s mission.
Keep in mind that your goal should not be to delegate the creative tasks to the creative person and the research tasks to the research guru. Your goal should be to have the experts in the group teach other members of the group strategies to get better at their areas of talent.
If you use group work as an opportunity to observe and learn from the talents of others, you’ll end up with greater skills than if you did the project in isolation. Embrace the opportunity to learn from peers, see their unique talents, and pick up on their strategies. Whether it’s a new study tip or insights into how to be a better public speaker, keep your eye out for these opportunities to learn from your talented team members.
6. You learn to negotiate
One of the most frustrating things about group work for me is that sometimes the final product of the group project is not exactly what I want. It’s hard for a perfectionist to see ideas and perspectives in a final group assessment submission that you don’t agree are the best.
However, this outcome is a desirable aspect of group work that’s built into the process. Allowing someone else’s ideas to be a part of a shared project leads to shared ownership. Everyone needs to see a little bit of themselves in the final product of the group work process.
The idea of give-and-take in group work is explained by the term ‘positive interdependence’. Positive interdependence loosely means that the group sinks or swims together. If your group members’ ideas are not included in the group discussion, their motivation will decrease and you will find they begin to put less effort in. This will hurt the group in the long run. It’s therefore useful to ensure your peers feel they have some ownership over the group discussion. This ensures group cohesion and makes sure the group sustains its motivation to learn in the long run. As this study found, groups that embrace positive interdependence tend to end up succeeding more than groups that lack a sense of being ‘in it together’.
Negotiation and compromise are necessities of life. Getting your own way shouldn’t be the goal of a group project. Putting the group first teaches you something: it teaches you about the importance of community, interdependence and tolerance. These values are the soft emotional intelligence skills that will make you a better listener, colleague and learner.
Even if group work gives you nightmares, try to focus on the positives. It is a very useful method of learning and developing new products. This is why universities and workplaces employ group work scenarios regularly. Groups that are effective help you not only develop better final products and learn more deeply, they teacher you soft skills and emotional intelligence that will serve you well for life.
Next time you get involved in a group scenario, keep your focus on how your group can be beneficial for your learning and development:
- You get a variety of perspectives
- You improve your vocabulary
- You learn to teach
- You learn to manage personalities
- You can leverage talent
- You learn to negotiate
About the Author
Chris Drew has a PhD in Education and teaches Teacher Education at university level. He is the founder of the blog HelpfulProfessor.com and is the voice behind the Essay Guidance Study Skills podcast. You can join his free personal tutor service by heading over to his website.