Working in Groups

Leadership in Groups

While leadership styles vary, effective group leaders are characterized by group involvement, mutual respect, and excellent communication.

Learning Objectives

Describe the qualities of effective leadership in groups

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • There are three main leadership styles: Laissez-faire, Democratic, and Authoritarian. A leader's style and involvement may fall anywhere along the continuum.
  • It is the group leader's job to unite group members in working toward a common goal, keep them motivated, diffuse conflict, and ultimately deliver success.
  • Excellent communication can be the key to successful group work. When messages are properly understood and all group members feel they are being heard, the group's goal can more easily be accomplished and conflict is less likely.

Key Terms

  • rapport: a relationship of mutual trust and respect
  • continuum: a continuous series or whole, no part of which is noticeably different from its adjacent parts, although the ends or extremes of it are very different from each other

Leadership Overview

There are many essential elements to being an effective leader. A group leader must be responsible for not only participating in the group and ensuring that the group's goal is attained, but also for motivating the team, delivering success, and being a resource that group members can reach out to for help.

Leadership Continuum

Leaders are usually categorized along a continuum, at one end of which lies the Laissez-faire leader, in the middle the Democratic leader, and at the other end the Authoritarian leader.

Laissez-faire is French for "let do." A Laissez-faire leader takes a laid back or hands-off approach. This style may be most effective in a highly skilled and motivated group, or in order to foster creativity and participation. However, if a group is in need of direction, then a laissez-faire style may result in frustration and inefficiency.

An Authoritarian leader is one in which a leader attempts to exert maximum control over a group. This leadership style may be beneficial when a group is lost and disorganized or there are significant time pressures. However total control can also lead to group tensions or resentment of the leader and group members are also not likely to stay committed to the project as they feel they have no part in the decision making process.

The Democratic style of leadership falls somewhere in between Laissez-faire and Authoritarian styles. A Democratic leader will allow the decision-making power to be shared amongst group members and not only themselves. At the same time, a Democratic leader will facilitate discussions and lead the group in right direction.

Recently, leadership theories have emphasized the importance of leaders who cultivate positive, mutual relationships within their groups rather than step back too much from the team or dictate the flow of work. The leader must know each member of the team as well as the team as a whole in order to bring them all together. An effective leader uses each member's contributions and energy to focus on a common goal.


Group Leadership: General Petraeus talks with U.S. soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

Group Leadership

Communication is one of the most important aspects of working successfully in a group setting. Therefore, good communication skills are an essential quality for a good leader. Communicating is always difficult in a group, but these difficulties can be magnified by factors such as large group sizes, strong personalities, or differences in opinion.

When working in a group, it is important to have a common goal around which group members can unite. This is something on which all group members can agree and which they all desire to work toward. When leaders find that they have particularly strong-willed group members who seem to dominate the conversations, or several group members who do not seem to get along, communication can often be the key to resolving the conflict.

In these situations, effective communication techniques include discussing the conflict openly with the members involved, providing a more structured discussion forum so all members can be heard, or even engaging group members in non-project related bonding activities such as ice-breaking games, a group lunch, or a fun outing.

Technology is now a great resource for effective group communication. Technology is a great way for large groups to share their ideas. Often, groups can become so large that it is difficult for all the members to meet at the same time and place. Additionally, in large groups it can be difficult to allow everyone's ideas to be heard. Through various platforms such as email, Google Groups, Blackboard, Facebook, and others, it is possible for group members to share their ideas in an organized manner so they can be read by others at their own leisure.

While leadership styles may vary with person and situation, it is always important for leaders to remember their role in the group. Effective leaders both participate in the group and work to achieve the overall goal of the group, guiding members in the right direction. Effective leaders will build mutually respectful relationships with their group members. Having a rapport with group members allows leaders to better understand members' actions and increase their cooperation. Finally, effective leaders facilitate excellent communication amongst the group. Great communication leads to better and more effective idea generation and less conflict overall.

Responsibilities in Group Work

When all member assume their expected responsibilities, working in groups can be enjoyable and effective.

Learning Objectives

Describe the typical roles and responsibilities of group members

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Assigning group members roles can help alleviate uncertainty about expected responsibilities and help keep the group on task such as leader, scribe, devil's advocate, and tracking lessons learned.
  • Group member responsibilities include holding themselves accountable, participating in group activities to achieve the overall goal, and respecting all members of the group.
  • Each group member has something uniquely valuable to bring to the table. Allowing group members to use their strengths and bring their individual knowledge and backgrounds to the project will allow the group to function to its full potential.

Key Terms

  • group think: A process of reasoning or decision - making by a group, especially one characterized by uncritical acceptance or conformity to a perceived majority view.

Responsibilities in Group Work

When participating in group work, every member of the team has a responsibility to the group and the project. If each member does not participate, contribute, and deliver results, the group will ultimately fail to achieve their goal. Collaboration becomes effective only when group member participation is balanced.


Group Work: Assigning roles can make groups more effective.

Everyone in a group must learn to hold themselves accountable and be accountable to the other people in their group. Without accountability, work will not get done, deadlines will not be met, and the group will not be able to reach its goal. Individual and group accountability means that no one student has to do all the work. Accountability means not only being accountable for the physical work that a group member must deliver, but also attendance to group meetings, conduct, and behavior towards other group members, etc. It is also important to remember that group members are diverse and each one has a different strength and perspective to bring to the project based on their backgrounds, learning style, experiences, and aspirations.

Typical Roles in a Group

While everyone should be responsible for brain storming, problem solving, and providing their experience and knowledge, sometimes it can be helpful to assign group member specific roles. That way, members know exactly what they are responsible for. Four roles that are commonly found in groups are: a leader, a scribe, a lessons learned tracker, and a devil's advocate.

  • Leader – In the event there is no clear chain of command, a team must be prepared to assign the role of leader. A leader can keep the team focused, mediate conflicts, and ensure that individuals are held accountable.
  • Note taker or scribe – again, a simple idea, but documenting every meeting is an important step in developing a productive team. A scribe can quickly get a team up to date with past notes so little time is wasted remembering where you left off. Documenting and distributing notes from each meeting will equally inform all team members.
  • Lessons Learned tracker – Identify one person to track both positive and negative outcomes of meetings and projects. This individual can solicit input from other members. By documenting what everyone thinks went well and why and what did not go well and why, can keep a team productive by not repeating past mistakes.
  • Devil's Advocate – Teams need to embrace conflict and different points of view. By assigning a devil's advocate, this person can freely bring up alternatives or objections, making the team more objective.

By assigning these roles to members of the group, it can increase efficiency and productivity. The group now has people in specific roles to help them stay on track and the group members can now clearly outline their responsibilities in regards to the group work.

Characteristics of Great Group Members

Characteristics of great group members are those who actively participate, respect all other members, can both learn from other members and teach them, values other's contributions, draws on their own unique past experience and knowledge, and feels a sense of ownership over the project. To strive to embody all of these characteristics is the responsibility of all group members, regardless of their assigned role.

Responsibilities of Group Members

Group members are not only responsible for creating positive productivity within their group, but they must also avoid falling into the trap of unproductive behaviors that also arise in group settings. Group think and social loafing are two incredibly common negative phenomena that arise in group collaboration.

  • Groupthink is simply going along with the team on a decision because that seems to be the consensus and they want to avoid conflict. Having a strong devil's advocate will help reduce the chances of groupthink.
  • Social loafing is someone that is putting forth less effort as a member of a group than they would as an individual. They are allowing the other members of the group to do the majority of the work with the intention of still reaping equal benefits. Again, leadership and holding people accountable is a great tool to deal with social loafing.

Working in groups can be challenging. Blending people from many different backgrounds, with different personalities styles and work ethics can make consensus difficult. However, when all group members take on their expected responsibilities, group work can become much more enjoyable and effective.

Reflective Thinking

Reflective thinking about group work allows students to evaluate both successes and failures of the project and work towards improvement.

Learning Objectives

Explain how reflective thinking is used in group settings

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Reflective thinking requires scientific analysis of a problem and using empirical knowledge to make decisions.
  • According to John Dewey, a disciplined mind is necessary to gain knowledge and obtain true intellectual freedom.
  • When group members use reflective thinking, they are able to use the scientific method to reach logical decisions and understand the strength of the group based on individual competencies.

Key Terms

  • scientific method: A method of discovering knowledge about the natural world based in making falsifiable predictions (hypotheses), testing them empirically, and developing peer-reviewed theories that best explain the known data.

Reflective Thinking

Reflective thinking is using the scientific method to make a decision. This helps to create deep learning, which will enable the growth of an individual in many different aspects, including morally, emotionally, and cognitively. Reflective thinking helps to determine an individual's strengths and weaknesses by allowing individuals to question values and beliefs, challenge assumptions, recognize biases, acknowledge fears, and find areas of improvement.

John Dewey and Critical Thinking

Dewey's method of critical thinking involves a disciplined mind in order to gain knowledge. A disciplined mind needs intellectual control of the thinking process, which is so often emotionally based. This disciplined mind offers intellectual freedom, and discipline shouldn't be viewed as a negative aspect as many individuals believe it to be.


John Dewey: Public speaking students are often taught John Dewey's methods of reflective thinking.

Reflective Thinking in a Group Setting

Using reflective thinking in a group setting can allow for intellectual decisions based on defining a problem and using concepts based in logic to select the best solution. Group members will then be able to compare and contrast their colleagues' interpretations of the project experience with their own. They can learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the group, as it is comprised of the competencies and assumptions of the individuals.

Reflective thinking about group work should cover ideas such as:

  • What did I do well? What did the group do well?
  • What could I improve on? What could the group improve on?
  • What was one of the largest obstacles the group faced? Did did we overcome it? How?
  • Was there group conflict? Was it resolved? How?
  • Was our group successful? Did we complete our objective? Why or why not?
  • What would we do differently if we were given the opportunity to repeat the project?

Reflective thinking is an excellent tool for identifying positive and negative aspects of a group work experience. By spending time seriously contemplating the overall process, both during and after the project, it is possible for group members to learn from their experience and work toward improving their group work skills for the future.

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