Working in Groups in College

Working in groups has become a rite of passage in college classes today. They are a way for students to practice working in teams and a reflection of the increasing demand by employers for employees who can navigate groups and diverse people.

More and more, work is team-based. In Silicon Valley, even engineers are encouraged to work together because doing so catches more mistakes and produces better solutions.

In fact, research shows that working in teams results in better outcomes and higher job satisfaction.

But the type of team or study group you join makes all the difference. What distinguishes a good group or team from a dysfunctional one is how teammates treat one another.

Research by Google into working teams showed that the right norms, "could raise a group’s collective intelligence, whereas the wrong norms could hobble a team, even if, individually, all the members were exceptionally bright."

What are those norms? In good groups and teams, members speakin roughly the same proportion - that could mean everyone talking during each task or taking turns. Either way, good teams give everyone a chance to talk.

Also, in good groups and teams, members are skilled at intuiting how others feel based on their tone of voice, expression, and other nonverbal clues.  They know when someone is feeling left out.  

Finally, good groups and teams have what is called psychological safety. Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up...It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’

How do you create a good study group? Encourage your team to adopt the norms above and to get personal. Psychological safety and emotional conversations are related. Taking turns speaking and empathy are how we establish bonds with one another. These bonds matter in groups and can mean an experience where you learn and thrive or one where you suffer.