Team effort key to group success

Emily Barske

Working in groups can be difficult, but the work can flow smoothly if each member embraces his or her own roles.

Some Type A, executive personalities hate taking the backseat on a group project. Benjamin Shaffer said he feels this way when he acts as the communicator for his lab group by reading the report to the group and getting in touch with the professor, which is contrary to his role in taking charge as a cadet wing commander in ROTC.

“Roles are the biggest part of what makes a high functioning team,” Shaffer said.

The role students fulfill in a group can be situational depending on the other personality types of the group members. In his lab group, a few of the other students are take-charge leaders, so Shaffer uses his other strengths to better the group.

It’s important to remember it’s not his team, but the entire group’s team, he said.

“Strengths align with what we contribute as individuals,” said Jennifer Leptien, program coordinator for the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. “We’re greater than the sum of our parts.”

Cameron Beatty, coordinator for the Leadership Studies Program, said students knowing their strengths and what they can contribute to a group can involve self-reflection, asking others they’ve worked with in the past for feedback and taking personality assessments.

However, in order to work well as a group, the individuals have to embrace differences, Leptien said.

For this reason, it’s important for students to be able to understand others and what their role is in the group, Beatty said.

“Be willing to be in spaces where you can broaden your diversity of thinking,” Beatty said. “That’s what you should come to college for.”

The group should establish expectations of each member off the bat, Shaffer said.

When two conflicting personality types are present in a group, such as someone who likes getting tasks done early and someone who works better under pressure, it’s important to have an open dialogue about concerns at the beginning, Leptien said.

Leptien said if someone who likes getting tasks completed early is wary of a team member who waits until the last minute, he or she could explain to the pressure-loving group member that he or she may be unavailable by the time that member begins working on it. He or she could also explain what is expected of the group member. 

“You need to recognize your way isn’t the only way,” Beatty said. “There might be another way to do this successfully.”

In dealing with conflict, Leptien suggests sticking with the facts of the situation.

Instead of assuming someone isn’t contributing to your group project because they don’t care, tell them you’ve noticed they haven’t been attending the meetings and you wondered what was going on, Leptien said.

Sometimes when conflicts arise within a group, members just try to forget about it rather than solving the underlying issue, Shaffer said.

Our society views conflict as a bad thing, Beatty said.

But high functioning teams need team members who feel comfortable disagreeing with the group, Shaffer said.

“Without conflict, we wouldn’t have found a lot of answers to the world’s problems,” Beatty said.

To become more comfortable working with a group and being able to address conflict, Beatty suggests joining a club, getting involved with the community and taking leadership studies course.