Group Work – Great or Gruesome?

Some of love it, some of us loathe it, very few of us are ambivalent.

I must admit that, when I attend training sessions as a delegate, I’m not a massive fan of group work.  Generally I find it quite stressful and prefer to just listen to the training and learn what I’m there to learn.

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Does Teamwork always make the Dream Work?

But we’re all different and some people really enjoy it.  They find it a good way of getting to know new people and picking up useful first hand information in in relation to specific shared interests.  

From a professional trainer’s point of view, I’m undecided about the merits of group work.  I completely see the value of asking delegates to practise, in groups, a specific skill I might be showing them.  I can also see that group practise and pair-sharing is very useful if we’re working towards a test or exam.   But for general information gaining or knowledge building type talks or training sessions, I’m less convinced of its value – other than to allow the trainer a short break, obviously.

I feel the same way about icebreakers – the bit at the start of each session where you have to find out three interesting things about the person sitting next to you.  It’s reasonable and useful to ask people to introduce themselves, but I’m not convinced of the merits of the accompanying activity!

Now, I appreciate that some of this may make me sound a little churlish, and just to be clear, I am aware that it’s horses for courses.  A group of aspiring sales professionals may well relish the thought of getting stuck into some group work, particularly if there is a slightly competitive element to it.  It can also be a very good way of putting teams together. Each person has their own dynamic and a trainer has the opportunity to see how different personalities gel and work together.

But in my experience, more people dislike it than enjoy it.  I am sure I have once heard a comedian say that the two most hated words in the English language are, ‘audience participation’.

There’s also the very important point that not everyone is neurotypical.  For someone on the autism spectrum the anxiety associated with having to join in with group or pair work with someone they don’t know can be quite crippling (hence at CHP events we deliberately avoid group work for this reason).

So all in all, for any fellow trainers or L&D professionals who are reading this, I would ask them to carefully think about any group work or convoluted icebreakers which might be included in a training session.  Consider:

  • Are they really relevant?
  • Are they useful?  Can you easily explain why you’ve included them?
  • If they’re there for a reason, how are you benchmarking their success?  How will you know if they’ve achieved their stated purpose?
  • Is there an alternative activity for those who would prefer to work alone?

After all, sometimes there’s a lot to be said for taking time to quietly reflect on what you’ve been listening to, and making space to think things through properly.

Author: marydonne

Training, Coaching, and HR Specialist.

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