Group Process

Getting started with your group? One of the first things you might want to do is create a document, sometimes called a group charter, which clarifies what the group is about, what the group expects from its members, and other, related guidelines. Group charters make sure everyone’s on the same page, and prevent any disagreements or miscommunication. Make sure everyone has access to this document: this can be a great way to kick-start a discussion about how files will be shared.

Here are the main points of a successful group charter:

  • Lay down the ground rules.
  • Set up a meeting schedule.
  • Define your roles and tasks.
  • List the supporting tools you’ll use.

Establishing Ground Rules

This involves agreeing on how the group will work together.

For example:

  • How will you make sure communication stays respectful?
  • How will you deal with problematic interactions, on- and offline?
  • How will you address conflict or deal with disagreements in the group?
  • How will you make sure that everybody participates equally?
  • What are the rules for dealing with a member who hasn’t been communicating? How frequently should group members communicate/check in?
  • How will you ensure that everybody participates meaningfully? How will you make sure everyone’s contribution is valued?
  • How are decisions made in the group? Do you operate democratically, by the use of roles, or something else?
  • What technologies will support your group meetings? IM programs, Connect discussion boards, Skype, etc.?
  • What’s the group’s primary goal? Getting an ‘A’? A good learning experience? The chance to try something new?

Resources related to ground rules:

Communicating Effectively (Chapman Learning Commons)

Create a Schedule

It’s important to create, agree on, and stick to a meeting schedule that works for everyone. You’ll need to consider:

  • Assignment requirements and due dates.
  • What you need to do face-to-face, in real time, as opposed to what you can do online.
  • What you have time to contribute to, given your individual schedules.
  • What constitutes satisfactory participation: how much time members have to spend a week, what happens if deadlines are missed, etc. Reference your ground rules.
  • Set your schedule and post online for everyone to view and refer to.

Once you’ve answered those questions, set your schedule and put it online somewhere everyone can access it.

Resources related to schedules:

Meeting Strategies to Help Prepare Students for Group Work (University of Waterloo)

Doodle is a free online scheduling tool which helps reconcile different timetables.


Designate roles and tasks

If you feel like your group could benefit from some structure, you might want to assign roles to each individual: these help clarify what everyone is responsible for. Here are some suggested roles, with brief descriptions of what each role is responsible for.

  • Facilitator: organizes and facilitates meetings. The facilitator sets the agenda and makes sure everyone’s voice is heard.
  • Summarizer: summarizes what was discussed in each meeting. The note taker also outlines the next steps for the project after each meeting, including who’s responsible for what.
  • Note taker: takes meeting notes. The note taker is responsible for posting the notes somewhere group members can access.
  • Progress chaser: follows up with group members to ensure that things move forward. The progress chaser is responsible for making sure everyone stays on track.
  • Timekeeper: the time keeper is responsible for making sure everything happens according to the schedule. This includes reminding everyone how much time is left in meetings, as well as the project as a whole, and what’s left to be done.
  • Presenter: presents the materials that are created by the group.
  • Mediator: helps resolve conflicts where they arise, making decisions when necessary.

Resources related to roles:

Meeting Strategies to Help Prepare Students for Group Work (University of Waterloo)

How People Function in Groups: Roles that Contribute to the Work and Atmosphere (Derek Bok Center – Harvard)


Choose Your Tools

It’s never been easier to collaborate on documents together, or to communicate online. The work you do as a group will be supported by the communication tools you select, so choose wisely! Here are some options:

  • Wiggio allows videoconferencing, calendar and file sharing, and use of a virtual whiteboard to plan your project. Wiggio also supports mobile use.
  • Google Drive is a cloud-based office suite ideal for collaborative writing/presentation projects.
  • The UBC Wiki is open to the entire UBC community. Share links, upload resources, create pages, and capture your ideas.
  • Connect discussion forums might be set up for your group by your instructor, allowing for asynchronous (not everyone has to be online at once) communication. Like any message board, discussion items can be posted and responded to at any time.
  • Skype is a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) program which allows you to communicate using voice, video, and text. It’s a free, online conference call. Other VoIP programs exist, but Skype is popular, free, feature-rich, and comes installed on many computers by default.
  • Phone conversations
  • Email

Just remember, if you’re signing up to a web service hosted in the U.S.A., you’ll want to take note of their privacy policies before you give up any personal information. The United States have different privacy projection laws than Canada does. The Canadian government released these tips for protecting your personal information across borders.