Solutions to Group Problems

Concerns over group dysfunction continue to worry faculty who use groups and prevent others from using them. We have some research-based evidence as to the problems students experience in groups. A 2008 study by Regina Pauli and colleagues used student responses to an empirically developed instrument to categorize the problems. What the students identified will not come as a surprise. Are they problems that can be solved, or at least diminished? Yes! Here’s a brief description of problem areas students in the study identified and a rundown of potential solutions, gleaned from a range of sources. If you’ve come up with solutions to these problems, please share them in a comment. Thank you.

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Concerns over group dysfunction continue to worry faculty who use groups and prevent others from using them. We have some research-based evidence as to the problems students experience in groups. A 2008 study by Regina Pauli and colleagues used student responses to an empirically developed instrument to categorize the problems. What the students identified will not come as a surprise. Are they problems that can be solved, or at least diminished? Yes! Here’s a brief description of problem areas students in the study identified and a rundown of potential solutions, gleaned from a range of sources. If you’ve come up with solutions to these problems, please share them in a comment. Thank you.

Lack of group commitment

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This set of problems relates to students not showing up for meetings, delivering more excuses than work, and being unreachable and unresponsive to group requests.

Task disorganization

Problems here relate to dividing up the work, spending too much time off task, and trying to pull a project together at the last minute.

Storming[1]

When storming (think brainstorming) goes awry, the group deals with conflict counterproductively—arguments become personal and positions polarize. Group members take sides, refuse to compromise, and vote for or against solutions rather than negotiate decisions.

Group fractionation

These problems result from the exclusion of group members, usually because of perceived differences in ability, background, and knowledge. Problems here also arise from unresolved conflicts over roles—usually leadership. Group members end up refusing to talk to each other or withdraw from the group.

Such group problems as these are more likely to occur if they’re ignored by the teacher or in the group. When these problems emerge, they usually don’t go away but get worse. When they are addressed, students in those groups learn content and experience the value of collaboration.

Reference

Pauli, R., Mohiyeddini, C., Bray, D., Michie, F., & Street, B. (2008). Individual differences in negative group work experiences in collaborative student learning. Educational Psychology, 28(1), 47–58. https://doi.org/10.1080/01443410701413746


[1] From Bruce Tuckman’s forming, storming, norming, and performing stages of group development