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Groups and teamwork
Groups and teamwork

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1 course outline

The focus of this course is on relating to groups of other people rather than one-to-one relationships. Reading 1 develops some general concepts about 'groups' and 'teams', not just those at work. The later readings look at groups from particular perspectives or contexts, with the aim of discovering ideas about how to make them function more effectively.

This is, in fact, the main aim of this course: to help you understand how you might function more effectively in a group by improving your working relationships. There are difficulties in tackling this aim via a set of readings like this. More traditional ways of tackling it involve training programmes that emphasise the importance of experiencing the issues involved. There is no doubt that, without the experiencing, the ideas remain theoretical and will not actually help you to improve the way that you function, just as reading a cookery book cannot alleviate hunger. To have any effect, the ideas (or the recipes) have to be put into practice.

Putting the ideas into practice involves thinking about yourself and others in a different way. This runs straight into the obstacle of the deeply ingrained habits that we all have in thinking in this area. I suggest that you adopt a quite moderate aim at first and try out one or, at most, two of the ideas presented. Choose the idea that seems to you most attractive, for whatever reason, and decide upon some specific occasions when you are going to put it into effect. Whenever possible, try to enlist the help of someone else to give you feedback on how you performed. The pay-off you get from this limited experiment will probably encourage you to try another idea. That's fine, but don't get carried away and try everything at once; you'll simply forget and frustrate yourself. If you can add one or two new approaches or insights to your repertoire of relating to others, then this course will have achieved its major objective.

Reading 2 is concerned with the dynamics of group behaviour. This is a very broad topic and the subject of many textbooks. The initial approach taken in the reading is to look at the basis on which people are members of a group. The main part of the discussion of groups is concerned with the way that groups evolve and the sorts of process that determine whether the group is successful or not. This provides a number of ideas that can be used to make sense of group behaviour and to help a group function more effectively.

Another side of working in groups is how to cope in, or with, a team of people who have been set up to work on a specific project. Reading 3 looks at the nature of projects and the consequent effects on the team or teams of people involved. Projects also tend to have project managers, raising issues about leading other people rather than just working alongside them.

This final aspect of leadership is also the subject of Reading 4. Again, this is another vast area of interest where there are dozens of theories and prescriptions about how to be an effective leader. Some indication of the range of these theories is given in the reading, and their strengths and weaknesses are assessed. It becomes clear that there is no simple prescription for being a good leader; yet there are some characteristics that most effective leaders have in common.