TEACHING NOTES: Group work – group roles and tasks

The first article in this group work series, Getting started easily, explored ways of getting students started in group work and provided some icebreaker activities. In the second article, Next steps for success, we explored things to consider prior to getting students into groups and different approaches to dividing them into groups. This time we are looking at potential group roles and the tasks you might require students to perform. As previously discussed, students are often required to work in groups so to ensure they have a positive experience when in groups your students ‘must be equipped with the skills that they need to achieve’ successful group work outcomes (Prichard, Bizo, & Stratford, 2006, p. 120). Another consideration in supporting the success of group work involves the roles that will be required to effectively complete the tasks or goals you set (Launonen & Kess, 2002).

Potential group roles

Launonen and Kess (2002) identify eight roles, suggesting four of these are outward looking as they focus on the impacts and perceptions of the group to the outside world

(innovator, resource investigator, chair and shaper) and four which are inward looking (evaluator, group worker, organiser and finisher) whose concern is primarily related to what occurs within the group. Launonen and Kess (2002) provide descriptions outlining the function of each of these roles. I have outlined some commonly used roles below:

  • Group leader – ensures the group works cohesively and that all members of the group:

– have a role
– are included in decisions
– are performing their required function.

The group leader is responsible for reporting any issues / problems with group behaviours.

  • Notes person and time keeper – records all participants’ comments and notes as well as ensuring the group works in a timely manner and can finish the set tasks on time (could be two separate roles).
  • Presenter – ensures all members are kept up to date and all the information they need to complete the tasks is available to them at all times. Presents or delivers the final product and may give feedback on how it all worked.
  • Ombudsperson or problem solver – manages any conflict within the group and decides when to escalate the problem to the topic coordinator or tutor. This role differs from the group leader.

Each of these roles would be taken up alongside the role of the worker (unless your group is large and the tasks are complex). The workers undertake the activities that enable the group to complete the task to achieve their goals.

Deciding who takes on which additional role may also depend on the experience that students have with working in groups, the type of task they are undertaking and its importance (i.e. in relation to grades). They might be assigned through mutual agreement within the group, you might assign the roles or, if the groups are working together for a reasonable length of time, you may decide to rotate the roles so each person gains experience in each one. These roles and how they are assigned may differ according to the tasks you set.

Considerations in relation to tasks

  • What tasks will the group be required to perform?
  • Is the size of the task appropriate to the size of the group?
  • Do the tasks involve the development of specific skills? Are there ample opportunities for each member of the group to acquire the skills?
  • Are the roles you have defined and assigned appropriate to the task?
  • How will activities (who does what) be tracked (through FLO, in class, outside of class)?

Once you have students divided into their groups, have determined their roles and their set tasks, you may wish to consider some icebreaker activities to help them identify how to achieve the tasks and groups goals. Icebreakers were covered in the August article: Groupwork – getting started easily. The next article in the series will explore other activities groups can do in tutorials.

If you are interested in hearing more about supporting successful group work outcomes come along to the face-to-face workshop scheduled for Thursday 15 November 2018. For more information on the workshop or to enrol, visit Staff development opportunities: Supporting successful group work outcomes.


Launonen, M., & Kess, P. (2002). Team roles in business process re-engineering. International Journal of Production Economics, 77(3), 205-218. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0925-5273(00)00158-4

Prichard, J. S., Bizo, L. A., & Stratford, R. J. (2006). The educational impact of team-skills training: Preparing students to work in groups. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 76(1), 119-140. https://doi.org/10.1348/000709904X24564

Written by Dr Ann Luzeckyj
Senior Lecturer in Higher Education – CILT

Posted in
Teaching Notes

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