Group exercises for assessment centres and team dynamics

You have probably already worked as part of a team or group as part of your course, in a part time job, volunteering or in a society or sports club.  So why are you so afraid when group exercises come up at assessment centres?

Group exercises come in many shapes and forms and really what you are being asked to do is not the point. e.g.

  • Build a house out of coloured paper according to these criteria…
  • Make a bridge out of straws that will support a 500g load.
  • Read the business case and come to an agreed recommendation.

The task is often completely unrelated to the job, what they are looking for is how you behave.

So what’s the best advice?

Imagine you are in a work situation, behave professionally!

You are working as part of a team to achieve a goal.  Even if you have your own case or agenda to promote as part of the exercise it is inevitable that you can’t all “win” so squabbling about it will get you nowhere.

  • Follow the instructions carefully.
  • Agree amongst the team that you understand the instructions and agree on a plan.
  • Ensure someone is acting as time keeper (everyone should wear a watch).
  • Make sure that you keep to task – your time is limited.
  • Enable everyone to have a say, help quieter members of the team to contribute if other people are taking over.
  • Don’t be afraid to change your mind if someone else has a strong case – make an informed decision.
  • Expect the unexpected – it is not uncommon for extra instructions to be given half way through that may completely change your ideas.

Although the outcome of the task is usually not important, failure to complete the task usually means that something has gone wrong in the group.

Teams who work well together may all be taken to the next level and a team that fails may find all its members do not go through.

So how can you prepare?

Really you can’t but you may find it helpful to consider how teams work.

Think about situations when you have been in a team and things did not go well.

What was the problem?
Did one person not pull their weight?  Were tasks not fairly distributed? Was it hard to meet up?  Did you run out of time?

Put your psychologist hat on – what was really going on?
Did everyone have a fair chance to discuss how to manage the task?  Was there a level playing field to start with?  There can be a lot going on in peoples lives that you may not know about – was it fair to ask the person with a part time job or a small child to meet up at 6pm?

What is your personal style in a group?

  • Are you an organiser – do you like to keep people on track and to time?
  • Are you full of lots of creativity and ideas, but are not so interested in the fine detail?
  • Do you talk more than other people and usually get your way?
  • Do you like to reflect on things and take a measured approach?

There are pros and cons to all of the above, it can be helpful to understand more about how groups work so that you can recognise the warning signs should they occur.

The following resources may be helpful:

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