How to Work Effectively in Groups

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Business projects often require a multidisciplinary team of employees to work together to find solutions and effect outcomes. Groups often consist of people with different skills -- and very different personalities. Learning how to participate in or manage a group will help you avoid problems and be more successful at achieving workplace objectives.

Identify the Goals

The first step in working effectively in a group is to determine why it exists. Your group might be a temporary collection of employees assigned to a project. You also might consider a department a group, even though the department staffers don’t work together each day. If you are part of a project group, scope the project so you know the group’s purpose, possible opportunities, potential problems, deadlines and expected outcomes. If your group is a department, look at its role within the company and how each person affects the department’s objectives.

Assess the Personalities

Make a quick assessment of the people in the group based on their personalities. You might have an alpha male or female who wants to take charge. A valuable team member may be passive, contributing only when asked. Another might be a gossip or backstabber who causes personality problems. Some group members will work hard, while others will coast on the work of others. You may have a mediator who doesn’t like conflict and who tries to keep all team members happy. Based on your assessment of your team members, decide how you will interact with each one.

Match Skills to Tasks

After the group has discussed its goals, determine who has what skills, experience, training and education. Assign group members to the tasks that best suit their individual abilities. If you're not managing the team, you can evaluate the skills of your co-workers and determine who you can help and who can help you.

Promote Collaboration

Rather than taking a top-down approach to group management, ask questions that allow the team to collaborate and solve problems. For example, if you are a group leader, tell the group how you’ve initially scoped the project after explaining the task, and then give your ideas about how you think the project can be completed. Ask the group to discuss your initial assessment of the project and to provide additional input as to how the group can reach the goals.

Facilitate Communication

Make it easy for people in your group to communicate to help avoid problems and to facilitate information sharing. Do this with weekly meetings, a cloud-based document that team members can update in real time, or group emails that inform everyone about the status of the team’s work. Make sure team members have a group email and phone list.

Reduce Conflict

When you feel tempted to contradict a co-worker or team member, think about the positive and negative ramifications your suggestion or comment might cause before you make it. Look at it from the point of the other people in the group and how they might react. Sometimes you will have conflict you can’t avoid. Other times, you can avoid conflict by meeting with someone privately before introducing a negative item in a group meeting. In addition, gossip can damage group morale and create permanent conflicts between group members. Assume anything you say in confidence about something will get back to that person. Don’t even repeat gossip someone else has shared.