Working in groups

Setting up a group

Whether you are working with a group of friends or people you have never met before, it is a good idea to set some ground rules so you are all working towards the same goal. 

Setting up a group contract.
As you may not know the people in your group very well, it is helpful to set up a contract which outlines how you are going to work as a team from the start. This document can be referred to at a later date if there are any issues within the group. The contract should also abide by university guidelines. Watch this video for a student's perspective on group contracts:



Selecting group members
Although you will want to select the people you know, it will be a more interesting experience if you pick people you don't know.

  • Successful groups are made up of people with different skills, knowledge and experiences.
  • A diverse group will offer more opportunities to learn from each other.
  • Forcing yourself out of your comfort zone will better prepare you for working in teams in the workplace.
  • The working reality is you will have to work with people who are colleagues rather than friends.

Getting to know each other
It will help you to relax in each other's company and focus on your group goals if you use some of these 'getting to know each other' ideas:

  • True or false: ask everyone to list three facts about them, the group have to guess which one is false.
  • Interviews: in pairs interview each other for 5 minutes finding out about the other person. Then introduce your fellow student to the group recalling as much as you can about them.
  • Southampton secrets: ask everyone to share their name and recommendation of a 'secret location' in Southampton. It could be their favourite restaurant, pub or live music venue.
  • Word association: individually introduce yourself and list three words that best describe you. Then, as a group, generate a list of words and phrases related to the group task.

For example: if you have to develop a marketing strategy for a new brand of coffee you might come up with 'aroma', 'taste', 'cappuccino', 'buzz' or 'pick me up'.

As part of getting to know your group, members should also share contact information. A group contact details form is a useful starting point:

Group contact details (Word doc)

Developing your group identity
Research carried out by Solent University found that managers from top graduate employers consider group identity as a key element to successful group work (Kamau & Spong, 2011). Think of your group identity as a brand you want to create and believe in:

  • Group name – it needs to be motivational and inspirational.  'Group A' doesn't inspire anyone.
  • Group logo – so you can brand your work and online presence.
  • Group mission statement – can you sum up your group's purpose in one memorable sentence? This will help you keep focused on the same goals.
  • Group space – your lecturer might be able to allocate your group a physical space to work in. Or you could be allocated (or create) an online space, for example on myCourse or myPortfolio.
Watch two Solent University students talking about how to keep in contact with your group outside university hours:

Ground rules / contracts
A group contract should agree how you would like to work together: where you meet, how often, how you communication, how meetings will be run and how you will deal with conflict. The group contract can be a 'live' document that you amend. For example, you might increase the number of times you meet to ensure you complete the task by the deadline.

Include the following:

  • Name of your group;
  • Names of group members (and you can attach the contact sheet);
  • Key information i.e. name of unit / module, task brief and assignment deadline;
  • Communication methods i.e. getting in touch with each other and sharing information (see online tools for ideas on communication approaches);
  • Group meetings - Where you will meet, how often and how they will be run;
  • Group roles - Team leader and other roles;
  • Project plan - Key milestones (dates) you need to meet;
  • Conflict resolution - How you will resolve disputes, How you will resolve breaches of contract e.g. a group member not attending meetings;
  • Name and signature of each group member and date signed.

Create your own version of the contract, or download the one designed by Solent University researchers for students working in groups (Kamau & Spong, 2010):

Group contract (PDF opens in new window)

Remember: studying at university is about constantly challenging yourself.

The next time you are asked to select a group of people to work with make the decision to pick students you haven't worked with before.