Improve your group’s ability to work together

Build skills in both adults and youth to help them work together more effectively.

Parent-teacher organizations, councils, sports teams and youth organizations: each represents a group of people that need to work together to achieve a common goal. In turn, the group’s ability to work together will determine the group’s success. What characteristics need to be present for groups to work together? How can you get them to work together to more effectively reach their goals?

According to the University of Florida IFAS Extension, the two characteristics that are essential for groups to work together are trust and cooperation. Merriam-Webster defines trust as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something,” and cooperation means “association of persons for common benefit.” Trust and cooperation will not occur automatically within groups, but these are characteristics that can be developed over time.

University of Florida IFAS Extension has identified four key elements for developing trust and cooperation. These elements are group communication, active listening, body language and group interaction. Communication is the key to developing trust and cooperation.

Effective group communication practices start by making everyone in the group feel welcomed, e.g. every member should be able to contribute. Next, communication should be kept simple. Third, encourage the exchange of ideas. Fourth, provide complex information in both a written and verbal form. Finally, allow time for get-acquainted activities.

Group members should use active listening techniques that allow participants to practice good listening skills. For example, acknowledge what you’re hearing by responding with “I see….” and nodding, or asking for more information.

The third element is body language. Be sure that facial expressions, posture, eye contact and gestures are appropriate and inviting to all.

Finally, group interaction should allow for all participants to participate. A facilitator can provide structure for this group interaction. The following types of group interaction can be used to allow everyone to participate within a group: round robin, small group discussion, brainstorming and nominal group.

MSU Extension’s 4-H Group Building Ideas for 4-H Clubs and Group Meetings  provides activity examples to help groups develop and improve their communication. The MI 4-H Club Development Guide provides helpful resources for groups to effectively set goals, establish roles and evaluate their success. Refer to Characteristics of effective 4-H Clubs to see how your group measures up. MSU Extension’s children and youth programming allows for many opportunities for youth and adults to experience the benefits of working together to reach common goals.

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