As with any assignment, you need to be clear about the details of the task you have been set. As a self-managing team, the first step is to consider as a group, what the assignment brief means and what your priorities are for tackling it:
We recommend you complete the Team Project Planner using the Planning Wizard.
- completing the planner (with the help of this guide) will help your team to get started
- the discussion around the planner will bring your group together and establish ways of working
- the planner is then a document your team (or your tutor) can refer to later - in case you forget what was agreed
- the planner will be useful when you come to write up your experiences
Think about using the planner to create a 'living document' on a collaborative space (Google docs, OneDrive, OneNote, Trello, MS Teams, etc).
At your first group meeting, discuss and clarify the requirements of the assignment brief together, making sure everyone has a chance to input. Don't assume that everyone interprets it in the same way. This step helps the individuals in your team to start to develop a shared understanding of why your team exists and what you are trying to achieve.
- What are the requirements of the assignment? As simply and accurately as possible, translate the details of your project brief onto your planner.
- What deliverables will you produce? What is the final product that you must deliver? A presentation, artifact, performance, report?
- What are the learning objectives? What skills and knowledge will the task help you develop? How can you demonstrate these in the final work?
- Who will be your audience? Who are you aiming this at (tutors, other students, etc)? How can you make sure that your deliverable is appropriate for them?
- What are the assessment/ success criteria? Look at the marking scheme for this work. What skills and knowledge will be assessed, and what evidence is required for each grade category?
What are your team members' aspirations in terms of grades? It's good to get this out in the open!
More helpful in the long term, however, is to talk about how to achieve excellence in your project rather than focus only on grade boundaries. The individuals in your team may have other priorities: perhaps they want to show creativity or origniality, to develop a particular skill or knowledge area, to do the bare minimum, to create something meaningful, political or experimental, or just to stick to the key tasks.
If every member is clear about their priorities from the outset, you can develop a shared understanding of how to proceed, even if members have different priorities. Teamwork is about adjusting and accommodation.
After your discussion, write a short statement on your planner:
What are your team's priorities for this task?
Start generating ideas. These may develop and change during the project so keeping a record of your team's thinking and learning process is useful if you are required to also write a reflection (report, essay, journal, lessons learned log).
You can use a variety of methods to brainstorm ideas (see this article), such as using and organising sticky notes on a board, creating a concept map on a whiteboard or large piece of paper, or working with an online tool such as Popplet or Padlet. Depending on your project, think about:
- What topic to focus on
- How the main topic breaks down into smaller issues or areas
- Which authors/ texts/ practitioners to include
- What kind of argument/ method your group wants to use
What examples are relevant
Once you have generated lots of ideas, it will be necessary to narrow them down and make a decision about the scope of your task or project. The scope of your project will be limited by the constraints of the time available, the resources you have access to and the quality you can hope to achieve.
Keep this scope (time, resources, quality) in mind and make a 'MoSCoW' list to help you narrow down ideas and decide what your project:
- Must have
- Should have
- Could have
- Won't have or Would have (if you had unlimited time and resources)
This is an especially important step for a large assignment or project. To make a large project or assignment more manageable, break it down into small, doable tasks.
Write each task down (if a project is very complex or needs to stay flexible, just make sure you always have at least 2 to 3 action steps listed out so there is always something to do). Use action verbs: find, research, design, make, schedule, organise, edit, discuss, decide, write, ask, do, etc.
- Set up WhatsApp group = Tom (due by today)
- Find and share articles on topic = Everyone (due by Wednesday)
- Book room for next meeting and let everyone know = Sara (due by tomorrow)
This will be a useful part of the planner to revisit throughout the project. Your tasks may develop, change, or be completed and new tasks may emerge. Tracking them will help you to understand your progress and will be useful evidence of teamwork to reflect on at the end of the project.
Breaking your project down into individual milestones and setting deadlines to these will help your group to stay on task. You could use the StudyHub assignment calculator to break the project into stages with realistic deadlines, or develop your own milestones:
- Planning to be completed by (date?)
- Research to be completed by (date?)
- Organising to be completed by (date?)
- Writing/ preparing to be completed by (date?)
- Review/ rehearsal to be completed by (date?)
- Submission/ performance due on (date?)
Think about adding these to a calendar (or GANTT chart) and setting up reminders/alerts.
Discuss how you will work together on this project. Think about:
- How often, when and where will you meet?
- Where will you record decisions and action items you agree on as a team?
- How will you share and store documents, weblinks and resources? What technology tools can you use?
Your university Office365 account offers you collaborative apps and tools such as OneDrive, OneNote and Teams. Other apps such as Trello, Google Docs and social media tools like WhatsApp can also be useful.
Remember to treat these spaces respectfully and professionally, recognising that your digital footprint and identity should be taken seriously and treating people in digital space as you would do in physical space - this link gets you to think about your 'netiquette'.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Any group of people brings together skills and qualities that will get the job done.
Key questions to discuss with your team are:
- What talents, skills and experience does each individual bring to the team?
- What talents, skills and experience does each individual want to develop in the project?
Usually in groupwork each member has an equal share in the grade, but effective team work depends on sharing responsibilities. It can be useful to see the roles as a set of functions that need to be carried out to complete a project.
- What roles are needed to complete the project?
- How will we spread the workload fairly?
- Will we keep essential roles for the duration of the project or on a rotating basis?
- How will we ensure everyone makes the most of the learning opportunities that the task provides?
Team roles might include:
- Chair (responsible for agendas, leading meetings and setting tasks)
- Minute– taker (responsible for recording attendence, making notes about decisions, assigning tasks, collating copies of relevant documents (e.g. taking pictures of brainstorms), distributing information to group)
- Secretary (responsible for keeping time, organising and informing people of meetings, setting up shared tools such as Trello)
- Research co-ordinator (responsible for overseeing which strands of the project are being researched by whom, collating reference lists, leading brainstorms about future plans)
You may devise other roles that are important for your project, such as ‘creative director’, ‘sound engineer’, or ‘lab manager’. You can amend the planner to account for these.
Try out the Team Role exercise on the activities page to find out your group's skills and qualities.
A well functioning group will be getting work done and fostering a positive atmosphere. Members don’t need to be ‘friends’ but can respectfully cooperate if everyone sees it as their job to foster good relationships.
An open discussion about mutual expectations will help your team develop some ground rules for effective teamwork.
Discuss your expectations of each other in terms of:
- What kind of participation do we expect of each other? How will we ensure a fair workload?
- How will we keep regular communication?
- What behaviour do we expect from members of our group?
- What working practices do we expect of each other? What about time-keeping?
- What accountability will we have to each other?
- How will we deal with conflict, if it emerges?
- How will we ensure everyone maximises the learning potential of the task or project?
Throughout your discussion, keep in mind the reciprocal and interdependent nature of teamwork: consider both what your teammates might most value in you, and what you might most value in them.
For information about emotional intelligence and some activities to use in your group, look at this 'activities' page.