How to Collaborate Virtually

Collaborating in a digital age

The in-person theory on November 30, 2016 at 3:57 pm

Many students tend to avoid working as a group when possible, this is often due to previous negative experiences, when they had experiences of having a group fall out, or when they had to be a single group member doing most of the work for the whole group. This fear causes many students to miss out on valuable learning opportunities, that can be gained when groups are formed effectively. In a setting like TC, where all your peers come from highly diverse backgrounds, and all your peers are highly capable, chances are you can create a positive and rewarding learning experience if you utilize the correct strategies. All it takes is some initiative and planning to ensure a success. We will also give some pointers on how to form groups, and what we determined as the ideal group size.

The Process: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing

Tuckman (1965) proposed that group development occurs in the four stages of Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. He stated that each and every one of the four stages are necessary for any team wanting to form a cohesive collaboration. According to Tuckman (1965), every group inevitably goes through a similar process before reaching optimum effectiveness.

 Stage 1: Forming 

In this initial stage, there are generally mixed feelings amongst group members. Some members are anxious about being on a team, others might be excited about the task ahead, but on the surface most team members are demonstrating positive attitudes and are typically quite polite to each other. There is still no identified roles amongst the group, and individual group tasks are still unclear. This stage can last for a relatively long time, compared to the other stages, as group members are collaborating for the first time and getting to know each other. It would be useful to identify a group leader or facilitator at this stage.

The leader should be directing the team, establishing clear objectives for the task at hand for the team as a whole, as well as individual team members.

Stage 2: Storming

As the name of this stage implies, the team embarks on the stage of storming, when group members are starting to get comfortable with each other and beginning to voice their own opinions. A difference in opinions, working styles, learning styles, can result in conflict amongst members.

Some members might be dissatisfied with the appointment of the leader and start to challenge this leader’s authority. The newly appointed leader, might still be in the process of defining how the team will work, and might still be struggling to assign roles to the rest of the team. Any and all unforeseen problems might be a cause of stress and frustration amongst team members.

Many teams do not make it past this stage.

The leader should be working towards building trust and positive relationships amongst all team members. The leader is also responsible for resolving conflicts between group members, and remain positive as the leader of the group. The leader should also be working towards establishing effective communication processes and structures.

Stage 3: Norming

If the team successfully resolves the onset of initial conflicts, and team members are able to resolve their differences, the team moves on to the third stage of norming. As the group progresses however, the group might move between the stages of storming and norming as the tasks at hand become more complex, and individuals get to know each other even better.

Ideally, this is the stage where group members group members have gotten to know each other better, and have learned effective ways of communicating with each other. Group members should now be able to ask each other for help, and constructive feedback. Group members should now be more committed to both the group and the task at hand, as group roles should be assigned by now.

It is at this stage where the leader takes a step back, and let group members take on their individual roles and responsibilities.

Stage 4: Performing

The group has been together long enough now to collaborate effectively as a team. There are communication structures and group processes in place, enabling the entire team to work together cohesively. The leader is able to delegate work, and each team member is comfortable and well versed in their role within the group. At the end of this stage, the group should be able to achieve the goals set initially.

The team ideally should be able to operate effectively without its leader’s close monitoring at this stage.

Group Size

Different tasks would require different group sizes, but generally, groups of around four members tend to work pretty well for the following reasons:

  • Fewer scheduling conflicts
  • Enough work is allocated to each group member, so that every single member is making a meaningful contribution
  • Students are more visible and accountable to each other
  • Less chance of the group splitting into subgroups; less chance of fragmentation and conflict within the group
  • Greater chance for the group members to interact with each other personally; meaning greater cohesion
  • Easier for the group to reach an agreement

It is also important not to jump into groups too early on in the semester, we would not recommend that groups be formed in the first class, for example. Students might be auditing the course and choose to switch out, new students might join the class..etc. If you form a group of four, and one of the members leaves the class, then the workload significantly increases for the other three members left.

Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin (63)6, 384-399.