By Mike Lehman
Undergraduate and graduate students commonly need to complete tasks and projects in groups. Team collaboration in a classroom setting is often a way to distribute the workload to complete a project seamlessly. Still, certain group work challenges can impact working effectively as a team. In addition to dividing labor based on roles, working in teams is often lauded as a way to increase productivity, share knowledge, create efficient processes, and raise the creativity of final projects.
Yet, group work also lends itself to certain challenges, especially for individuals who are more productive and creative when working alone. Communication is one of the primary issues that students face when working in groups. This difficulty can be mitigated by setting clear guidelines for conflict management for both individual team members and the group at large.
The classroom is the starting point for developing effective team dynamics, which can transfer to professional and workplace settings. Georgia Tech’s Effective Team Dynamics Initiative (ETDI) offers workshops for students to help them effectively resolve group conflicts. ETDI has developed specific strategies to promote effective remote collaborations and is also a great resource to learn how to resolve conflict with practical resolution strategies.
This article teaches students strategies to address conflict in group projects and improve team dynamics.
What Are the Challenges of Group Work?
Group work empowers students to cultivate diverse skill sets, foster collaborative learning, simulate real-world scenarios, enhance academic performance, and promote personal growth. These skills are all essential for future success in college and the workforce.
Group work can be a valuable learning experience, but it also has its challenges. Here are some of the most common types of team conflict for students:
- Time Management
In group work, communication is a critical component of effective collaborative work. Communication issues can lead to overall complications in completing tasks. Problems oftens arise from language and cultural differences, differing communication styles and personalities, and a general lack of clarity. Communication issues can also lead to conflict, which covers disagreements about how to approach a project in addition to equitably dividing responsibilities.
Meeting deadlines and coordinating schedules can be difficult for groups, especially large teams. Students have different schedules and time commitments, and the inability to meet regularly can lead to frustration and missed deadlines. Holding individual group members accountable for deadlines ensures the completion of tasks but leads to conflict itself if it is not communicated professionally. In certain instances, a lack of leadership can result in inefficiency. It’s important to find a good balance between leadership and allowing creativity and contribution among all group members.
It’s important to map out clear expectations for individual contributions to avoid group conflict. This agreement should include guidelines for conflict resolution. In the next section, we will discuss how to resolve team conflict.
Team Conflict Management
Efficiently navigating group work challenges and resolving team conflict is necessary to maintain a productive workflow. Here are some strategies for students to handle group conflict:
Address Conflict Promptly
Promptly addressing conflict can prevent disruptions. Ignoring issues will only lead to more problems in the future. Additionally, open and honest communication promotes seamless collaboration. If everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas, conflict can be resolved before it gets out of hand.
Be Willing To Compromise
When problems arise in group work, compromise is necessary in navigating group work challenges. Each team member should be willing to be open to other perspectives in order to meet common goals. You may need to give up one of your demands to find an agreeable solution.
Seek External Advice
One of the final ways to manage conflict is to seek external advice. For students, this is often a last resort since group work is designed for students to learn how to manage conflict internally. With that said, students should always reach out for external support to help navigate team conflict.
An example of a team conflict resolution strategy is to draft a group contract that includes member responsibilities. This document creates guidelines for members to follow, which should include the following categories:
- Group Expectations: Clearly detail the project and individual responsibilities for each stage of the project
- Tasks and Deadlines: Map out individual and group tasks with deadlines both external and internal deadlines
- Group Procedures: Spell out how the group will communicate, share work, and who is responsible for specific roles within the group
- Personal Accountability: Explain the unique strengths of individuals and set guidelines for resolving conflict
Other effective collaboration strategies include creating a team action plan, practicing effective communication, and delegating tasks and responsibilities. Navigating team conflict is a process that requires open communication, understanding, and compromise of each team member.
How ETDI Can Help
Leveraging individual strengths is a cornerstone of ETDI. Using Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment, ETDI empowers students, faculty, and staff to harness their unique talents and enhance team performance.
For students, utilizing CliftonStrengths when forming teams and executing tasks promotes project success and completion. Recognizing and capitalizing on one’s inherent strengths creates a competitive advantage, paving the way for success through understanding and nurturing individual talents. Additionally, ETDI offers curriculum sets for undergraduate and graduate students. The undergraduate curriculum set includes activities for first-year seminars and senior design.
DeMarco Williams, an ETD facilitator, advises students to maintain an open mindset when working in teams, lean in on their own strengths, and allow others in the group to fill the gaps. He recommends working with the ETD facilitators to build and understand strengths to lead to more effective teams.
If you would like to learn more about how to enhance team dynamics and understand your own personal strengths, please contact us to set up a free workshop or have