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I'm Unique But Similar: Designing a Group Workplan For a Task Force

I'm Unique But Similar: Designing a Group Workplan For a Task Force

Author: UKy UndergraduateEd

This exercise offers a step-by-step tutorial in how to design a group work-plan that is based on the strongest unique talent of each of the individual group members. This group work-plan can then be used to create task plans that capitalize on the strengths of each member. As the group works on projects over time, the group can refer to this work-plan when deciding how to split up the work.

A good icebreaker for building work groups that offers a way to get to know other members in a task force in a meaningful and useful way. This group activity focuses on group dynamics and in the long run, will help manage group work most efficiently.

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Laura Young, University of KentuckyThis exercise was developed by Laura Young and Kristen KiernickiKristen Kiernicki, University of Kentucky, graduate students and teaching assistants in the Department of Communication, University of Kentucky's College of Communication and Information.

A similar kind of activity has been used as an opening exercise in CIS110 Composition and Communications, a required course in the University's general education program, UK Core. Within this requirement, students are expected to demonstrate competent written, oral, and visual communication skills both as producers and consumers of information.


Learning how to create and manage an effective task force to work on problems and projects is an important part of student success in college - and life beyond college. A powerful management tool for resolving complex and challenging problems, a good task force comprises members selected on the basis of their individual competence relative to the problem. This tutorial will help you learn how to work with people you might not know very well to tackle assigned group projects throughout an academic term.

Many first year students arrive at college knowing just a few people. At times, this can make an individual feel alone and lead to the idea that no one is like them. The best way for you to succeed in college is to take responsibility of your own social learning atmosphere during your first year in college. You can use this exercise as a way to find out just how much the people in your group have in common, while acknowledging unique individual differences. This activity is designed with the hope that you will become more comfortable with meeting new people and potentially learn ways to "break the ice" in other contexts.

Good Team Work Relies on Commonalities and Unique Differences

It's not a trick or purely talent, but lots of patience and practice. There is a real difference between team work and group work - primarily a team should perform at a level that is greater than the sum of individuals' work. In a team, members have complementary skills and are committed to a goal for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. So, all teams are groups, BUT, not all groups are teams.

Source: "Team Work - Birds or People? Find Out" YouTube video clip,

Step One: Form a Group of Five

This activity works well with small, medium or large group settings. You will want to start with a group of about five people with whom, eventually, you want to work together on a project. You can work together online in a group chat e.g., via Facebook, Skype or your college's learning management system. Or, if you gather together face-to-face to work on this, assign a group member to be the note taker.  

Step Two: List Common Traits

Create a list of as many common traits or qualities at ALL the members of your group share. Avoid writing any obvious statements (e.g., "everyone in the group has two eyes"). Dig deep to find interesting and meaningful commonalities. Remember that your group is more than just a collection of people. You are striving to find interdependent relationships that will help to accomplish a future goal.

After the group has brainstormed a list of common traits, review the list to find the most interesting of the three commonalities.  Which of the commonalities make the group most innovative, most flexible, most meaningful in its ability to create a complex project or to provide services? Post those common traits for the group to see and refer back to on a regular basis.

Step Three: List Unique Traits

Now work together to find unique qualities that only ONE group member holds. Find three unique qualities per group member. Again, the qualities you list should all be qualities beyond the obvious things people can see.  Focus on positive qualities that can be considered each group member's strength.

If there is a lull in creating the list, have everyone read a short posting by Ken Thompson, "The law of requisite variety and team agility," The Bumble Bee, Bioteams Features.

Next, post the most interesting, unique fact of each group member so that the team can refer to it later.

Step Four: Design a Group Work-plan Based on Unique Talent

At this point you have identified the common and unique traits of your group.  Explore deeper to anticipate how awareness of the commonalities and differences can  make for better outcomes.  Now through group discussion, allow each individual to select that ONE unique trait of their own that will make your group work-plan strongest. 

  1. Group's Common Traits:
  2. Each Individual's Top Unique Trait:
  3. Brainstorm with the group on how the combination of  traits can give you an edge on upcoming  assigned projects?  What kinds of tasks do you think the group can best take on together?

Additional Resources:

"Characteristics of Effective Teams," Engineering 140: Leadership of Technology Ventures, Stanford Technology Ventures Program.

"Collaboration: Interpersonal Team Dynamics (video)." (2008). Excellence 2.0,

Mitchell, Tom. "Outlines for Chapters in [Daniel] Levi text [Group Dynamics for Teams]" .

Rea, Simon. "Olympic shorts: Team dynamics." (2011). OpenLearn, The Open University.

"Teams and Work Groups, Chapter 1." (2006). CAPSCU Pathways to Higher Education.

Thompson, Ken. "The 3 Rings of Member Commitment in Any Dynamic Group," The Bumble Bee, Online Collaboration Techniques, Bioteams Features.

"Understanding Team - What is a Team?" (2012). Management Study Guide.

"Understanding Work Teams," Student PowerPoints for Chapter 10 of Robbins and Judge, Organizational Behavior (Pearson, 2007). Slides available for free download.

"What is Team Effectiveness?" wiseGeek.

"Working Collaboratively..."  Managing Groups for Results.