Group Work: Overcoming Challenges & Handling Conflict

You won’t all agree on everything all the time – life just doesn’t work that way.
The way we deal with tension and conflict is what’s really important.

When conflict arises, try to:

  • Remain Objective
    Focus on the issue and not the person
  • Remain calm & hear eachother out
    If the disagreement turns into a shouting match, call a “time out”, giving everyone a few minutes to calm down, then re-open the discussion with a rule that allows everyone a chance to speak
  • Use “I” Statements
    This requires people to take responsibility for their feelings and helps improve communication skills.

For example, instead of saying “We are sick of you arriving late for meetings”, you can say “I feel frustrated when you arrive late for meetings”

1 One of the biggest challenges include uneven contribution by one or more members and it definitely increases tension in the group.

Possible solutions:

  • Set clear expectations & guidelines for the group from the start
  • Assign roles & responsibilities to ensure equal contributions by everyone
  • Address the issue directly & respectfully with the person(s) not pulling their weight
  • Include a ‘record of contribution’ from each member in your project – this raises red flags for those not contributing and gives credit to those who are
  • Refer back to posts on the group: Group Work – The Basics, and Group Work – Getting Organised & Started

 

2 Scheduling problems may result in the work on the project starting late or not being able to continue.

Possible solutions:

  • Consider alternative ways of meeting or communicating, set up an email group or Whatsapp group for example, and use that as a way of discussing important items & keeping the project moving forward
  • Refer back to the post on: Group Work – Getting Organised & Started

 

3 Different Expectations & Work Ethics – Some members may be striving for a distinction, whilst others are just interested in passing. Some may also go out of their way to get work done ahead of schedule while others procrastinate and leave things to the last minute.

Possible solutions:

  • Keep work & project goals realistic a& attainable
  • Remember that your actions (or lack thereof) will impact on others in the group, or the group as a whole
  • Agree on a schedule up front & revise it periodically to ensure that everyone is keeping pace

 

4 Getting Stuck or ‘hitting a wall’ can result in procrastination & work avoidance.

Possible solutions:

  • Re-read the assessment brief focusing on the expectations & goals of the assessment
  • Call a brainstorming session so that you can generate & discuss ideas
  • Use mind mapping to link common ideas & threads
  • Set up a group-lecturer appointment to discuss the problem & get unstuck

 

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Group Work: Getting Organised & Started

For group work to be successful, there have to be agreed upon rules, roles & deadlines – this is to ensure that everyone fairly contributes & works towards the same result.

Things you may want to consider at your first group meeting include, but aren’t limited to:

  • General Group Etiquette
    No cellphones, don’t interrupt someone when they’re speaking, always be respectful, arrive on time
  • When To Meet
    May be difficult but the group will benefit overall. However, don’t miss class in order to attend a group meeting.
  • Where To Meet
    Select a place that is accessible to all members, often campus is the best & easiest solution
  • Keeping In Contact With Eachother
    Other than the meetings, agree on an additional form of communication, eg email or Whatsapp group – something that everyone has access to
  • A Realistic Schedule
    Work backwards from the submission date so that you can identify important milestones, conflicting dates etc.
  • Minute Your Meeting
    This is common practice in the workplace and a good way to keep record of:
    Who was present or absent, what was discussed, what was agreed upon, who was assigned what task.
    After each meeting, the minutes need to be sent out all to all group members

 

  • Ahead of each meeting, agree on the agenda for the meeting
  • Use the agenda to keep the group focused during the meeting
  • End the meeting with a confirmation that everyone knows what’s expected
  • Agree on a date, time & venue for the next meeting

 

  • It’s important to know a little about the members of your group, particularly in terms of their strengths & weaknesses. You don’t want to appoint the final verbal presentation of your assessment to someone who has a phobia of public speaking
  • Be sure to include everyone in on discussions, decisions, and work allocation. People are more co-operative, productive & willing to take responsibility if they have been included in the groundwork that led to the decision
  • Everyone should be given a chance to speak and ‘pitch’ for specific jobs, listen to what they have to say & keep the group agenda, not your agenda, in mind when making final decisions – what is best for the group?

 

Common group roles include:

  • The Leader
    Leads discussions using open-ended questions; they facilitate discussions by clarifying & summarising group comments & decisions; they guide conversations, keeping them on track & positive; they check for consensus and/or questions from the group members
  • The Organiser
    Schedules & communicates meeting dates, times & venues; ensures that meetings follow an agenda; records & distributes notes of the meeting; monitors the project timeline, and keeps the project on track
  • The Editor(s)

Compiles the final piece of work from parts received from different members of the group; ensures the final product flows & is consistent; edits completed work i.e. spell-check, grammar, formatting etc

  • The Presenter(s)
    If applicable: works with the group members to compile a cohesive & articulate presentation; presents the presentation in class

 

  • Everyone understands & acknowledges that the assessment cannot be completed without the contribution & cooperation of all the members
  • All members are given the opportunity to share their ideas & express themselves
  • Differences or issues are dealt with directly with the person or people involved
  • The group recognises hard work and encourages each of the members to take responsibility for their tasks and/or roles. There is a shared sense of pride & responsibility

 

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Group Work: The Basics

As media students you will eventually be entering industries that all place high priority on their employees’ ability to work well in and contribute to a team. Employers are looking for graduates who can bring new or different strengths to their existing teams. 

SKILLS NEEDED FOR GROUP WORK

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Group work requires the consistent application of certain skills in order for the process to run smoothly, and to allow for different people, with different attributes and personalities to work together effectively.

Communication & Listening Skills

Effective group work requires participants to practice both good communication & listening skills.

We’ve all at one point or another switched off when someone was taking, or interrupted someone because we just had to share our thoughts right. That. Instant. It’s fine to allow your communication and/or listening skills to slip in casual, social environments, but when it comes to high stakes situations, such as working on a group assignment, or with a team on a multi-million Rand campaign, these skills can be make or break, not just for you but the whole group.

TIPS FOR IMPROVING COMMUNICATION SKILLS

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  • Speak ‘in’ the group and not ‘at’ the group – speaking at someone comes across as domineering & not open to response
  • Speak to the whole group and not just your friends in the group
  • Contribute to the discussion, don’t dominate
  • Ask questions but don’t be argumentative
  • Encourage the group to stick to the topic and not waste time
  • Build on other’s ideas eg “That’s a good point, because it will…”
  • Use ‘open’ language eg “what do you guys think?” vs “I think we should” – people are more likely to listen and consider suggestions put forward in an open manner
  • Acknowledge your errors and apologise – by owning and apologising for your mistakes minor issues will remain just that
  • Be considerate of other’s feelings – think before you speak
  • Summarise what the group has agreed on to be executed by the next meeting – this ensures that everyone is on the same page

TIPS FOR IMPROVING LISTENING SKILLS

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  • A lot of the time we don’t listen with the intent to understand or hear what the other person is saying instead we listen with the intent to reply. For effective group communication you need to concentrate on what the other person is saying, rather than thinking about what you want to say in response
  • Don’t interrupt others – everyone should be allowed the time and space to have their say or make their contribution without interruption
  • Focus on the content of what the person is saying, and then build on it or link it to other ideas

 

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Effective Note Taking

Taking effective notes and writing down verbatim what your lecturer says are two very different things. Proper note taking not only assists with comprehension and attention but transforms you into an active learner.

Taking notes during lecturers forces you to:

  • Tune in & listen
  • Analyse what is said & identify what’s important
  • Be an active listener rather than passive – this makes you think about what you’re taking note of

The Do’s…

  • Be attentive to the main points
  • Take precise notes of formulas, definitions, terminology & facts
  • Use your own words where possible – this helps with retention & understanding
  • Use bullet points to indicate related info & distinguish major from minor points
  • Use highlighters to indicate new terminology
  • Write legibly – you need to be able to decipher what you’ve written
  • Create your own system of symbols & abbreviations
  • Review your notes within 24 hours – Relook words you don’t understand & fill in gaps or questions
  • Start new notes for each new lecture – remember to date & number your pages
  • Keep your notes as brief as possible

 

The Don’ts…

  • Do not try to write every word the lecturer says – seek out the main points & info
  • Do not use scrappy pieces of paper
  • Do not record or film a lecture with your phone instead of taking actual notes – by actively taking notes you are processing & retaining the info

  • If it’s being written on a whiteboard
  • If it’s in bold or CAPS or both!
  • Emphasis – this can be picked up in two ways
    1 Tone of voice & gestures
    2 The amount of time the lecturer spends on a certain point
  • Reviews given at the beginning of a lecture, highlighted points or topics from the previous lesson
  • Repetition – the lecturer won’t repeat the same point for nothing

 

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NB vs urgent tasks

Time pressure is a prevalent source of stress both at college and in the world of work – it’s the result of having too much to do, and not enough time to do it all in.
The Eisenhower Principle is a prioritisation method that allows for the categorisation of tasks in a straight forward, no-grey-areas manner. The principle helps you consider your priorities, and then decide which tasks are essential and which are distractions.

Important Activities – have an outcome that leads us to achieving our goals, whether they are personal or professional

VS

Urgent Activities – demand immediate attention, and are usually associated with achieving someone else’s goals. They are often the ones we concentrate on and they demand attention because the consequences of not dealing with them are immediate

Step 1 – Select a task and decide whether or not it is urgent. This will help you in deciding whether immediate action is necessary or not

Step 2 – Using the same task from step 1, decide whether it is important or not. This will help you decide whether it is something you need to do yourself, or whether it can be delegated to someone else

According to the Eisenhower Principle tasks fall into one of four categories

  • Important & urgent
  • Not urgent but important
  • Not important but urgent
  • Not important and not urgent

Each category is then assigned a recommended plan of action

  • Important and urgent – DO it now
  • Not urgent but important – DECIDE on when to schedule it in
  • Not important but urgent – DELEGATE it to someone else
  • Not important and not urgent – DELETE it

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Time Management: The effective use of to-do lists

Are you struggling to keep up?
Have you forgotten an important deadline?

These are all symptoms of poor time management, which can be corrected with a prioritised to-do list. To-do lists can also change your life when dealing with multiple deadlines!

CREATING A TO-DO LIST

  • Write down all the tasks you need to complete for the upcoming week or month
  • If there are large tasks, break them down into smaller tasks
  • Ideally a task or step should not take more than a few hours to complete
  • It may be helpful to compile a to-do list per module you are registered for, or one for personal tasks, and one for college tasks. Try different approaches and see which works best for you

  • Read through your list and allocate each task a priority rating
  • If you find that majority of your tasks have been allocated as very high, redo your list with a realistic and critical eye, looking for what is really high priority, and what can be safely demoted to moderate or low priority

  • Start making use of your list by working through the tasks in order of priority
  • Once you’ve completed a task in full, tick it off or draw a line through it
  • Once a day spend 10 minutes revising your list – adding anything new that has come up, reassigning priorities should things have changed etc

 

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Time Management: An Introduction

Truth is… now that you’re in college, you keep your own time.

WHAT IS TIME MANAGEMENT?

Time management refers to a person’s ability to keep the different aspects of their life balanced. This includes having realistic expectations, learning to say ‘no’, and setting short-term and long-term goals.
Time management refers to a student’s ability to prioritise what is important, and letting go of things that aren’t critical.

HOW TO BETTER MANAGE YOUR TIME

It may sound simplistic and even cliché, but making a list of everything that needs to be done and keeping track of your work can have a remarkable impact on how you manage your time.

Step 1 Write it all down
List your tasks, update your list once a week, revert to your list daily

Step 2 Estimate the amount of time you need
Work out the amount of time you need for each task, have a safety margin of additional time just in case, finally divide the estimated time by the amount of time such as weeks you have to complete a task. JUST BE REALSITIC ABOUT TIME.

Step 3 Prioritise
Figure out your most important tasks and prioritise your tasks based on this importance.

A common time management mistake among students is that they waste a lot of time throughout the day, resulting in tasks and assignments being rushed through in the evenings or on weekends.

Common time-wasting traps:

  • Time between study sessions and during lunch breaks
  • Time between getting home and eating dinner
  • The ultimate bad habit… sleeping in late

If extended meals breaks are a reoccurring problem for you, you need to look at the rest of your day to ensure that you are getting enough breaks in. It’s important to plan a reasonable break for meals, e.g. 1hour lunch and 1.5 – 12 hours for dinner – even if you finish eating in 20 minutes, breaks are essential to helping you use your time effectively.

Try working for a few hours in the morning or early afternoon, and save social activities and easy tasks for the late afternoon and evening. Once you’ve put some solid time into your studies, you can enjoy your weekend down-time guilt free.

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Coping With Homesickness

There is no doubt about it, you are living in exciting times! Starting college, leaving home, moving to a new city, being independent.
But come Sunday night, or any night for that matter, you find yourself missing home, your family, your room, your friends…

Relax! Nothing is wrong with you… Being away from home and adjusting to college life are stressful changes. But we do have some coping tips for you…

 

WORK ON MAKING THE UNFAMILIAR, FAMILIAR
A big part of being homesick has to do with being uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. The only way to deal with this is to work on making the unfamiliar, more familiar. Get to know your campus, the surrounding area, and the neighbourhood you live in. The more you start to make and feel that your campus, your home, your neighbourhood belongs to you, the more comfortable you are going to start feeling.

 

MAKE FRIENDS
Be with people. You probably don’t know many people yet, or those that you have met you aren’t particularly close to, but the point is to have people around and not isolating yourself.
Some things you may want to try include: eating meals or watching tv with others, catching a taxi to or from college together, walking to the shops together.

 

DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE ALONE
Whether or not you have friends to spend time with, it’s also important to have some alone time, during which you can pursue or start new hobbies. Some activities you may want to consider including: exercising, reading, crafts, volunteering.
The aim is to strike a balance between having alone time, spending time with friends and studying. Too much of anything is not a good thing.

 

PHONE HOME
Again, it’s all about balance. It’s important for you to maintain your relationships with your family and friends back home, this will help with missing them less.

 

STAY POSITIVE
Give yourself time to deal with your homesickness, but don’t let it to consume you – this is a period adjustment, that you will get through. Try to stay positive, set yourself small, realistic goals.

 

WHAT IF IT’S MORE THAN HOMESICKNESS?

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It’s rare for homesickness to develop into something more serious, but you know yourself better than anyone else. If you are having serious difficulties with adjusting, you need to ask for help – don’t keep it to yourself.

Signs you should be aware of:

  • Excessive use of alcohol or food
  • Excessive tv, internet or video game use
  • Inability to do what needs to be done i.e. attend lectures, attend to personal hygiene etc
  • Persistent crying

 

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Cooking On A Student Budget

Living on a student doesn’t necessarily mean survival on 2 Minute Noodles. Let us show you how…

1 Dinner Roster
If you’re in a commune set up, consider setting up a dinner timetable:

  • Get together and decide who cooks dinner every night of the week
  • Breakfast, lunch and weekends are “fend yourself”
  • Set a budget for meals and just make sure the portions are big enough

2 Food Specials
Look for meal specials at your local grocer such as Pick n Pay and deal nights at your favourite take-away spot such as Roman’s Pizza.

3 Cook & Freeze
If you have access to a freezer, consider cooking meals in bulk over the weekend and then freezing them. Bulk cooking also helps save money because of less wastage.

4 Convenience Costs
Great deals at your favourite takeaway place can be a great opportunity to save money and we all know it’s easier. However, don’t develop bad habits that disregard your health and don’t fuel your brain for collage work.

Google is definitely your friend when it comes to finding easy, cheap and cheerful recipes to make on a student budget. All you need to do is search keywords such as; healthy cheap recipes, college student recipes etc

Some great sites we know of:

 

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Student budgeting

Being a student is expensive and with pressure from parents, sponsors, or yourself to do well and pass each year, it isn’t always feasible taking on a part-time job to help supplement your income.
Whether you’re a trust fund baby or personally paying off a student loan, having a budget is the right thing to do…

So, what is a budget?

A budget is a form of financial planning which involves racking the movement of your money into and out of your bank. The purpose of having a budget is that it helps you identify your expenses, plan for shortfalls, and detect bad spending habits you may not be aware of.

Budgeting isn’t exactly thrilling but with enough practice, life does become easier.

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Setting Up Your Budget

Step 1: Find a budget planner
You can download free budget planners, spreadsheets and apps online. Basically, a budget planner gives you a visual breakdown of all your income vs expenditure and what you’re left with after all is said and done.

Step 2: Track Your Expenses
Tracking each and every expense can seem a little nuts but it’s easy if you just keep slips or take notes of what you spend on. The reason for this is so that you can ultimately understand what you spend your money on.

  • Get a notebook
  • Take note of each expense
  • Add it all up

Step 3: Start Budgeting
Note every expense and consider the following categories.

INCOME
This refers to money you have either earned, saved or have coming in…Any money that comes to you that you don’t have to repay.

EXPENSE
This refers to items you personally pay for, out of your own money. This does not include anything paid by someone else.

  • Student Loans
  • College Expenses – tuition fees, study supplies etc
  • Living Expenses – Rent, groceries, toiletries, cell phone
  • Transportation – Taxi fare, bus fare etc
  • Health – Vitamins, prescriptions, medical aid, gym etc
  • Personal – Entertainment, clothes etc

Once filled out, you will be able to see:

  1. Whether or not you’re making ends meet based on what disposable income you have, and
  2. Where you may need to start cutting back

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Budgeting Tips & Things To Remember

  • Consider setting up a second back account, specifically a savings account. This will prevent you running out of money and ultimately encourage savings
  • Join loyalty programmes and find out about student discounts
  • Remember that your spending patterns will differ significantly between term-time and the holidays – you will need to budget accordingly for both
  • Shop around – compare prices to save money on groceries, toiletries etc
  • Credit cards are NOT the solution! They attract high interest charges, and can result in your credit rating being tarnished even before you start your first job
  • Earn extra money in your spare time – instead of lazing your June and December holiday away, apply for vac work
  • Don’t waste your money in pre-packed meals and take away coffees – making your own lunches at home will save you loads of money over time

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