Before the commencement of this subject of Theories and Practices of Group Works, I have high hope of developing a sound knowledge of group works. More specifically, I want to know what group works is, what general practices underpinning group works, and how this is relevant to me as a student. This paper is a reflection of the challenges of working in a group and what I have learned from this experience. Working in a group either in a formal or informal setting is a fundamental part of human experience which allows people to develop more complex activity and is a significantly important factor in socialisation, education or any other organisation. Toseland and Rivas (2017, p.27) describe group work as a goal-directed activity that refers to planned, orderly worker activates carried out in the context of professional practice of people. My interpretation of group work is the formation of a group of students put together to work on group tasks with a similar set of academic goals. Also, group work enables students, including me in developing knowledge in group processes, provide the opportunity to effectively implement group program and critical analysis of the theories and models in group work processes. Similarly, Forsyth (2005) states that group works are two or more individuals who are connected and within social relationships.
Johnson et al. (2014) add that group works can promote student’s collaboration to achieve shared learning goals, increase student’s achievement and offers opportunities for peers to shape their learning. Throughout Theories and Practices of Group Works, this course not only provides a sound understanding of groups works but also examine the values and theories underpinning the concept of group work; understanding different stages of group work models and development; group dynamics and the processes.
The group task given by the course coordinator is the starting point for all students to demonstrate our understanding of group work and effectively apply our learning modules into our group project. As this is my selective subject, group work project is a new experience, and I anticipate more challenges in comparison with my peers. The concept of group work sounds simple on the surface. However, the notion of a group which include several individuals who are formed together to complete a particular task comes with the processes of how they structure and the function of the group. This process is also known as group dynamics. Toseland and Rivas (2017) and Lewin (1943, 1948,1951) describe that group dynamics is the way groups and individuals act and react to changing circumstances. Similarly, LaFasto and Larson (2001) in ‘When Teams Work Best’ describes that the four stages of a good relationship involve constructive, productive, mutual understanding and self-corrective. As teamwork does not spontaneously establish after a formation of a group, I am fully aware this process takes an enormous amount of effort and time to get every member to stay focus and to achieve our goals in completion of our group tasks.
My initiative of establishing communication with every member of our group to develop interaction, to build on a mutual relationship or teamwork and to avoid any possible pre-existing conflicts is the representation of LaFasto and Larson’s theory of forming a good relationship. Without delay, once our communication had established, we started to work on our strategies with our preferred communication methods, interaction patterns to enhance our collaborative learning, distribution of tasks, assigning roles and decision-making. I proposed one of us to be a group leader as this role would carry on the critical tasks of delegation and monitoring of our group task. Van Vugt and Kaiser (2008) explain that leadership is an adaptive solution to the problem of how to coordinate collective action in the service of goals. More importantly, coordination from the leader to assign roles to a group member to increase conformity, to follow up group processes periodically and to ensure group work is integrated appropriately without further conflict can significantly reflect the outcome of our group task (Yukl, 2012). Given the lack of attention paid to my reasoning, the rest of the group member decided on a collective role of leader-member for individual accountability, responsibility and also a preferred approach. Hence, the distribution of tasks was collectively agreed among all group members to break the written group assignment into smaller portion based on group members unique strengths. In this stage of teamwork, I realised conflicts or disagreement commonly occur as members have a different standpoint which needs to harmonise within the team. Although all collective agreement had formalised, we realised we do not have a clear understanding of the structure of our written assignment which required a specific a demographic and understanding the primary purpose of our group task, subsequently more time spent on brainstorming and discussion (Toseland & Rivas, 2012, chapter 7).
At this stage, the adverse effect of group work emerged when one of the group members leave most of the work to the rest of the group members who are more diligent or have a high level of commitment (Hall & Buzwell, 2012). Thus, I felt the tendency of this group member to exert less effort than she can or should decrease group productivity and motivation (Aggarwal & O’Brien, 2008). Another contributing factor to more delayed on our deciding written topic was the lack of commitment of utilising Microsoft teams as our communication platform. To address this issue, one of the team members and myself decided to switch to a different platform of communication through Facebook groups messenger to encourage all members participation and contribution. However, the continuation of sporadic communication extended and every effort we put in to encourage communication did not produce our desired outcome.
As a team member, I see myself displaying an active role; knowing teamwork is not an easy task. To better understand and manage various problems or unexpected circumstances that might happen in different stages, I used the four stages of groups developments theory by Tuchman (1965). According to Tuckman (1965), the four stages that evolve in teamwork are forming, storming, norming and performing. In my experience from this group work, I have both positive and negative regards from the four stages of group development. From the initial stage of forming, I found that all group members are not wholly united or little cohesion formed, which resulted in decision-making and taken longer than expected to reach an agreement. Also, there is no sense of belonging in the group considering all members were strangers and randomly put together (Scott, 2000). I can fully relate to this circumstance.
On the other hand, I also believe the amount of individuals effort is the determinant factor to overcome this issue. Once the formation of the group decided, we then moved on to the storming stage where all group members beginning to feel the sense of belonging, get to know each other strengths and weaknesses and motivate to work as a team. The storming stage is the most challenging stage I faced primarily due to our differences in opinions, culture indifferences, personalities indifferences and differences in our belief and value system, all of which affects groups interaction and cohesion (Knippenberg et al., 2004). Our lack of communication and differences in opinion on our written topic was an example of our storming stage. On many occasions, I felt that the storming stage was wasting lots of time with endless discussion and loss of focus on the initiation of our group task.
Next is the norming stage when all group members were able to gradually get to know each other through collective efforts in appreciating and respecting others opinion. Compromise is another crucial factor that enables us to work on this basis and understand the importance of interdependence to achieve our team goal. My perspective of effective communication, asking questions and be opened with my weaknesses to my peers had allowed me to discuss my thoughts and express my personal opinions more freely in this stage, thus eliminating future conflicts. I finally learnt the meaning of teamwork and understand our collective goals and team performance is the only driving force to a successful group task. Performing stage, on the other hand, is the final stage when we focused on our written task finalising, integration and completion. Our initial agreement was to forward all our individual written piece to one of the team members to proofread while another team member volunteered to combined all individual written pieces for finalisation.
I was looking forward to our final piece of combined written assessment towards the end of our submission date, but little that I know, one of the team members had yet to draft her written piece while others were not able to finish their tasks for various personal reasons. At this stage, I was very disappointed and stressed at the same time. Although I anticipated challenges and prepared for unexpected issues, however, I find this specific circumstance challenging to comprehend. The reality of knowing our time spent on each task may not be great, but with no similar amount of priority or commitment contributed to the task reflects the team performance significantly. In the end, after lengthy discussions, we decided to seek an extension from our course coordinator, so the rest of the members could complete and finalise our written group project. Despite this overwhelming experience I have, all team members were able to complete their task, proofread and point out each other’s mistake and made the final adjustment for our submission. From this experience in group work and applying Tuckman’s four stages of group development, I learnt that strong communication, good discipline, mutual respect and understanding are essential in group dynamics and teamwork. I am highly motivated when other group members are supportive to each other despite the challenges of not meeting our deadlines.
Another challenge I faced with group work task as an individual, was not knowing the resources to apply to my written assessment since a textbook was not available. I relied heavily on the university’s library resources, read through many scholar articles on our chosen topic and find relevant theories or approaches to complete my written piece. Putting a hypothetical written piece of group program which needs to be realistic and practical at the same has stretched my critical thinking to another level.
After completion of my written assessment, now, I see the possibility of planning a sensible group program successfully after developing so much of knowledge particularly in the guiding principles and theoretical approaches or models when applying to a target community. Throughout this subject, not only I learnt the theories of group works, which I believe could enhance my knowledge and effectiveness working with diverse community or setting, I also developed new friendships. Group work also provided me with a different perspective of collaborative learning, where it enhances our academic achievement and collaborative abilities (Johnson & Johnson, 2004). Despite many positive outcomes from working in a group, the challenges related to the ethical values, sporadic communication, lack of commitment and conflicts are not preventable but avoidable if more effort put into our four stages of forming, storming, norming and performing (Tuckman, 1965).
In my view, a non-participation of a group member could potentially affect the grading not only the entire group but as an individual member. For this reason, in the future, the areas I would like to improve in group work is to insist the appointment of a group leader in monitoring group work progresses, increase group productivity, increase conformity and more importantly able to meet the task’s deadline. More importantly, what each team member learn from group works and how these learning modules shape our learning to a more successful student in the future matter the most.