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Challenges of Group Work in College

by Neil Kokemuller, studioD

College classes commonly include group activities, discussion and projects. This is due in part to the emphasis employers place on teamwork skills and the value of peer-based learning. For some students, college may be one of the first times they have collaborated with peers on a project with major grade implications. Learning to work well in groups is challenging for some students for several common reasons.


Just as work group teams often face higher levels of conflict with diversity, so too do college groups. A college class often has students of different genders, ethnicity, age and life backgrounds. Instructors sometimes intentionally place students in diverse groups. While the point is to allow for more varied perspectives and opinions, differences contribute to conflict. In some cases, college students haven't been engaged in many projects or tasks with people that have different life paradigms and vantage points. Learning to work through the differences by listening, showing respect and using conflict resolution skills helps in overcoming challenges with diverse teams.

Different Goals

High-performing students often put up the greatest resistance to group work in college classes. This is partly due to a comfort with their own abilities and motivations. More critically, students often have different goals for learning, grades and project performance. This can lead to frustration, especially among students who want to do well. Whereas employees in a company often have the inherent motivation of needing to perform well for job security, peers in student groups may feel like they can get by without exerting their best effort in some cases.

Communication Style Differences

A communication style is your particular approach to communicating with others. While the labels vary depending on the assessment tool, common styles include directive, emotive, supportive and reflective. These styles are based on a person's combination of influence and level of sociability in a group. In general, style differences cause lead to lack of understanding, empathy and perceived personality conflicts. The directive style, for instance, is defined as a high level of dominance coupled with limited interest in sociability. In a group, this person can demonstrate a take-charge, all business approach. This can offend someone with a supportive style who prefers a high degree of social interaction and wants to be treated with empathy and respect.

Lack of Patience

A common technical challenge in college work groups is a lack of collective patience among team members. A primary purpose of group work is to increase the number of ideas, and subsequently, the quality of a decision or completed work. However, some students place more emphasis on speed and bypass the process of healthy debate and discussion of ideas. Instead, they may simply go with the first idea presented or vote on the first few ideas presented. This usually leads to a lower quality effort than more thorough team interaction produces.

About the Author

Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.

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