Some Tips for Working in Groups

HA Program, Auburn U. Mark Burns, Instructor

In the several years I have used small group techniques of instruction, many students have made suggestions to me regarding how to improve the work of such student groups. Here are some of the key points they have stressed concerning how to mount a successful team effort and how, as an individual, to relate to the work of a group.

General Points

  1. Trite as it may seem, one of the most important points of basic behavior in a group is common courtesy. Don't be afraid to speak up, but be sure to allow your fellow students time to speak. If someone expresses what you feel is a "stupid" opinion, try to criticize it constructively rather than putting down the person.

  2. Cooperation is also a key factor in teamwork. Don't hesitate to try to improve the work of your group by making suggestions, but don't needlessly obstruct for the sake of obstruction.

  3. Keep me informed about what your group is doing. If you want advice later, I can probably advise you better if I have some idea what you were doing in the first place.

  4. Groups are multi-purpose. Not only can you use them for doing the required team projects, but also you can use them for such purposes as joint study, note-taking for absent members and even recreation.


  1. Successful team efforts are most often achieved by thorough coordination. Organize you work as a group, and as individuals, as carefully as possible.

  2. If you set deadlines for completing work, set them before you really need the work and try your best to achieve them anyway. If you succeed, you've got your work done early and have extra time to use for other purposes. If you don't make the deadline, you still have a little time left to finish.

The Moderator

  1. Choose your moderator with care. Pick someone because he/she will best help your group get the job done, not just because he/she is your friend or roommate.

  2. Group members should never expect the moderator to do all the work of the group, or even the majority of it; nor should the moderator deliberately monopolize group work. Rather, the moderator should coordinate the individual efforts of group members to produce a coherent project.

  3. The moderator should be careful to insure that each member understands what he/she is to do on a project. Don't just assume "everyone understands." Often, "everyone" does not.

  4. The moderator should not ignore group members who seem to be having difficulty completing their assigned task. Rather, he/she should assign other group members to assist them or should directly assist them.

  5. The moderator should consult me if serious problems appear to be jeopardizing the work of the group.


  1. The evaluation process should be used constructively and critically. It is not the time for personal or ideological grievances to take over; nor is it the time to favor those you like. Imagine how you would feel if another student evaluated you based on such features.

  2. At any time during the course, students may consult me to determine their evaluation averages. I will not discuss how any individual evaluated another or what evaluation a fellow student received.

Gripes, Fears, Tears, etc.

  1. If you, as an individual, fear serious problems are occurring in your group for you or for the group as a whole, talk with your moderator first. If he/she cannot or will not solve the problem, either try to persuade the moderator to see me or see me yourself.

  2. If you do decide to see me, do so as soon as possible. Waiting to complain about problems in your group until after the course is over, or even mostly completed, is not appropriate.

A Final Note

Remember, what happens in your group is often similar to what occurs in a real civic, administrative, or political group. Problems such as coordination, division of work, leadership, disagreement, voting, dissent and even evaluation all have their counterparts in events which you will encounter life in your life. How you handle these issues now will give you ideas for constructive participation in the "real thing."

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