Group work is expected in most if not all our Construction studies modules. Some students don’t like it, others do, and the rest feel like they have to do it. I thought I ought to write something about this interesting topic. I will discuss the dynamics of group formation and how to make it a success, if possible.
In my modules, students are free to choose other group members provided that a few rules are followed. Firstly, part-time students don’t form groups with full-time students. Secondly, they need to adhere to the maximum number of students allowed in a team. The reason for splitting part-time from full-time students is based on the University’s experience of what works best. Part-time students have work commitments and therefore different availability. They may also have more industry experience than full-time students, giving them a different perspective.
I have looked recently at a class I lecture at MSc level. I found out that students tend to choose other group members based on a few interesting factors. I’ve identified three of them. They are likability, nationality and who is sitting next to you when students are required to form groups in the class.
Group Work: Likeability
Likeability has to do with first impressions, body language and perceptions that one can potentially work with this person. This becomes more apparent when a week after signing up to a group, students request to be moved. This demonstrates that they have found a better alternative. In many cases, this could be a more likeable solution based on further interactions in class and perhaps outside class. Remember, first impressions may be wrong sometimes!
Group Work: Nationality
Group formation based on nationality is more obvious with our international students. I find students from a certain country form their groups with students either from the same country or neighbouring countries. This may be because having the same language and culture helps break the ice quicker among newly arrived international students. I have witnessed this myself as a master’s student, where for example students from Greece formed Greek only groups. There is nothing wrong with that. Just keep in mind, a coursework group is not a social group but more of a business group.
Group Work: Your desk neighbours
The last but not least factor is who you are sitting next to in the class when your lecturer asks you to form teams. This is a very random factor and I have found it to be the least likely factor to keep a group working together. Students who sit next to each other in the first class may move around and find they click better with another or other students. However, if you don’t change the location, you might find this is the most obvious option.
Your Lecturer’s Advice
My main advice to students is that in real life, or industry for a better word, you will not have a choice as to who your team members are. In all the jobs I have worked on in the past, especially engineering projects, I didn’t get to choose who my team is. Typically, when one starts work for a company, or in a project, the team either already exists or is being formed. In a construction project, there will be a document controller, a project engineer, a quantity surveyor, a planner, a project manager, etc who you might have never met before in your life and you have to work with them. You will need to ask them for information and communicate with them in order to do your job.
Moreover, I advise my students that forming a group with someone because they are your friend is not always a guarantee of a good working and functioning group. Friends have expectations from each other, so it can actually be more complicated working with a friend than with a stranger. In my undergraduate degree course, I worked with friends and I recall group members walking out of meetings in the early hour when we have a submission due the next day.
Group work is a challenge and it is the norm if you work in projects. A single person never carries out an entire Construction project. Get the group experience at Westminster Business School and you are likely to learn from it. The experience will help develop your people skills and prepare you for work in the industry. After all, it is the ultimate goal of most of our students. It can be challenging but it is well worth it!
Thank you to Wala Al-Daraji, a lecturer on our Postgraduate Construction programmes, for writing this blog piece. For more stories about our Construction studies, click here and for other stories from Westminster Business School, click through to our blog.