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Good collaboration 

Build up good collaboration in your group by aligning expectations about your academic work and your collaboration. 

Group work is an essential or even compulsory part of the structure of many degree programmes. So it is crucial that group members are able to work well together, for example when writing assignments or giving joint presentations. And it is worthwhile spending time and effort to make your collaboration work, or to get back on track if it has gone wrong. 

Academic collaboration 

Keep in mind that group work is a professional collaboration, and that your group is a resource you can turn to for help to solve academic problems. It is important that you all articulate your expectations for collaboration in the group, so that you know what the other members expect of you, and what you can expect from the others. 

Agreements on collaboration 

It can be helpful to make group agreements when setting up an academic collaboration in a group, or during the process if you experience problems along the way. Group agreements serve to ensure that all members of the group agree on what is expected of the group work from the time the agreement is made. Do not cling to the past, but think about how you want to collaborate in the future. If you like, your discussion can result in a written document or a group contract. 

Setting up group work

Start by aligning your expectations 

If you are a new study group, it is a good idea to have a meeting where you talk about your mutual expectations for the group work. Use the list below to talk about what you expect of each other in the group, and how your collaboration is to progress. You may want to write down what you agree, so that you have document that you can revert to when needed. 

INSPIRATION FOR MUTUAL ALIGNMENT OF EXPECTATIONS 

1: Expectations: What are your individual expectations – for yourselves and for the group? It may be a good idea to write them down individually before talking about them in the group. You should also allow time to talk about your level of ambition, work pace and degree of thoroughness. For instance, is it OK to sometimes lower your level of ambition? 

2. Clear framework: What is the group’s view on group members not preparing for or taking part in group work, or their failure to stick to agreements? Should sanctions be available in the group? And if so, what kind of sanctions?

3. Frequency of meetings: Agree how often you want to meet and, if possible, find one or more regular weekdays. Schedule your meetings and plan ahead instead of planning as you go along. Agree on the venue for your meetings: Will you meet at the university, at the library or at home?

4. Logbook: Write brief minutes of each group meeting. This will make it easier to remember what you have agreed, and to bring absent group members up to speed. You can keep your logbook on Google Docs, where all group members can access and edit the same document on an equal footing. This will also make it easy to take responsibility for the logbook by turns.

5. Evaluation: Remember to reflect on your collaboration as you go along. Are you satisfied with the collaboration and each other’s efforts? Are you getting everything done? What works really well? What could perhaps be improved? At the end of the semester, it is extremely important to jointly evaluate the work done by the group as a whole and by individual members of the group.

You can also download the five points for setting up group work, and take them to a group meeting. 

Conflict management

Not all conflicts can be avoided, but most of them can be resolved 

Even if you had no alignment of expectations when you started your collaboration, it is never too late to talk about your future expectations based on the lessons learned from your group work so far.  

Focus on your professional collaboration 

Think of your group work as a professional collaboration and of your group members as colleagues in a workplace. Like in a workplace, it makes good sense to invest energy in getting a study group back on track if conflicts arise. If parts of your group work are problematic, it can be a good idea for the group to meet and try to resolve the problem together. Focus on your professional collaboration and how you work together, and do not blame each other for any problems in the group. 

INSPIRATION FOR CONFLICT MANAGEMENT 

1. Group agreement: If you have previously drawn up a group agreement, start by revisiting the agreement together. Do you need to change or update any parts the agreement? Do you still keep to the agreements you made originally? If you have not drawn up a group agreement before, it may be a good idea to do so now, so that you have a guide for your future collaboration.

2. The conflict: Consider whether your conflict stems from an academic or a personal issue. Remember that academic disagreements are quite OK. If your conflict stems from a personal issue, you may ask yourselves whether you have become too close and are putting too much of your private lives into your group work. Remember that group work is a professional collaboration.

3. Round table discussion: Give each group member time to speak without being interrupted, so that everyone gets to express what they feel is not working, what they would like to change, and what they think works well..

4. Evaluation: Do you remember to evaluate the group’s work on an ongoing basis? Are you making sure everyone’s views are heard? Does anyone feel they are doing more work than others?

5. Help: If you are unable to solve your problems internally in the group, it may be a good idea to get help from an outsider. For example, this could be one of your teachers, your student counsellor or the Student Counselling Service. Remember that your teachers have a responsibility and an academic interest in making sure that your group work serves the intended purpose.

You can also download the five points for managing group conflicts, and take them to a group meeting. 


See also

Digital Group Tools

There are a number of free digital services that your group can benefit from. Here is a sample:

  • With Dropbox, you can share documents, articles and empirical data.
  • Google Docs is particularly well-suited for writing and correcting in the same document.
  • Use Evernote as a unified workspace to generate ideas, write together and share links.
  • Make a joint to-do list using Microsoft To Do
  • Doodle can be used to plan which days you can meet farther in the future.
  • Create a private group or thread on Facebook and bring the latest updates, links and comments.