Strategy #7: Alleviating group conflicts

There is always the possibility that conflicts may arise to prevent effective collaboration. After all, groups bring together a variety of personalities. What steps can be taken to reconcile difficulties?

Here are some examples of conflicts as well as strategies to resolve them:

My group members are not coming prepared

"My group members are not coming prepared"

This is why it is important to assign specific roles and to use documentation (like a group worksheet) to hold individuals accountable. One way this situation can be dealt with is to conduct a group project meeting during class time. See how prepared each group is, ask each group member what his or her responsibility is for the day, and assess the contribution of each member.

One person always talks

"One person always talks"

It happens in every classroom as well--one or two students dominate the group dynamic and discussion. While it is good to have leaders in every group, the whole idea of collaboration is that everyone has something of value to contribute to the group. When groups have been decided upon, some simple ground-rules can be established for them, such as an agreement that each group member must come to each meeting with two questions that need to be answered, or you might suggest time limits for each speaker.

All we do is socialize

"All we do is socialize"

Focusing on getting the work done can be difficult, especially in groups that have established great rapport with one another. Encourage them to use the first five minutes to discuss whatever they want, but then agree to start the project after that. In addition, one of the assigned roles should be a coordinator/timekeeper of the group to keep the discussion on track and to ensure that the meeting's goals are met. You can even encourage them to decide on a time limit for each goal they will accomplish that day.

People are not showing up/doing their work

"People are not showing up/doing their work"

This is perhaps one of the main reasons students (and others) don't like to work in groups. Some will not attend the meetings that have been set up and simply shirk their responsibilities. The accountability system for the group should include the possibility of voting a group member out of the group. The first step, however, is to encourage them to come to you and voice their concerns. Telling students to "Work it out!" is simply not going to be enough on your part; you may need to act as a mediator for the group. Remind students that this collaboration is part of their assessment. Share the concerns with the "accused" individuals and get their perspective on the inner-workings of the group as well. If no resolution can be achieved from within the group, it may become necessary to disband the collaboration and reassign members.