Group Exercises

How to do well in the Group Exercise

Group exercises, these days they’re a part of every consultancy’s recruitment process, and rightly so. Companies need to see that you can get on with people, work together in a team and contribute healthily and productively to achieving a goal.

In assessment centres you will come across a variety of any number of scenarios, but when you boil them down, there are really only a few types and I’m sure if you boil them down even further you may even find that there’s only one type of team exercise. So I’ll aim to address the concepts and the overall purpose before illustrating how you might experience them in specific practical instances.

The generic exercise:

  1. The group size will be between 3-6 people
  2. You will have to solve a problem and/or reach a unanimous group decision/ conclusion
  3. In order to do this, you will usually be given aids and supplementary information
  4. There will be time pressure

What are the assessors looking for:

  1. Obviously, how you work in a group, what role do you play (leader, facilitator, human lubricant, jerk etc.)
  2. Do you… understand the task and material so that you are able to make valid insightful contributions to the team goal [make some good points, don’t just summarise and be diplomatic]
  3. make assertions and suggestions and back them up with sound reasoning/ evidence
  4. lead topics of conversation/ productively exert a degree of control on the team’s approach [let’s do this, let’s do that, what do you guys think, ok great]
  5. listen to other’s opinions, evaluate them and respond appropriately [don’t do as I did and say point blank to someone’s face their idea is rubbish-managed to get through but still, there are better ways]
  6. use information from team-mates in tandem with your own understanding to contribute constructively
  7. encourage others to contribute their ideas
  8. …organise tasks and people and keep track of time [delegating responsibilities to cover more ground in shorter time may be useful for some tasks]

[Click on the image above for a larger, clearer view]

Specific Scenarios:

These are just some of the specific examples I’ve come across and participated in. Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments box and add to this resource. Comments and suggestions more than welcome.

1. Recruitment exercise

  • Context and Task: you are a senior person and your company is setting up a new office; your first task is to appoint a new manager [variable].
  • Information supplied: list of candidates and qualifications; paragraphs of text describing qualifications, universities, skills, peripheral issues [ie. politics, culture, of new location] etc.
  • You need to work as a group within a short amount of time and first determine what skills and qualifications and profiles are necessary for the role and what qualities would be beneficial
  • The terms may be entirely fictional, so you cannot use prior knowledge but instead must piece together the clues in the information provided to generate a criteria which you then use to decide who you would appoint

2. Problem solving

  • This can vary greatly, but a specific problem I’ve come across to give you an example revolves around the Olympic Torch
  • The problem: The Olympic Torch travels through 9 countries and each athlete carries it through their native country. After 1 day 13 hours [variable] where is the torch, who is carrying it and what event do they compete in.
  • Each team member has a number of information cards: clues with names of athletes, indications of nationalities and travel times etc.
  • You can only share the info verbally and must piece together all the clues to come up with an answer.

3. Business case study

  • This will be similar to problem solving but focused around a business case.
  • You may have time allocated to read through the material individually to begin with and the assessor may state that no conferring at this stage is allowed.
  • You then all dive in and start discussing the issue, challenges and tasks

4. Event organising

  • You are putting on an event of some sort at the request of a manager (role-played by an assessor)
  • You have all the info needed including a list of venues, price-lists, etc. and a budget which you must use to appropriately to satisfy the needs of the manager
  • You may have an option to meet with the manager again and ask questions before you continue planning
  • The goal is to organise the event and present your ideas back to the manager

5. Project planning

  • You are tasked with planning a project of some kind, again with specific aims and needs
  • Produce a project plan complete with timelines which you will hand in at the end as well as delivering a short presentation

Each of these exercises may have sudden changes thrown in part-way through like a budget cut or a new variable to consider. This is to see how you reevaluate, adapt to change, deal with pressure and complete the task within constraints.

Structure, process, time management, collaboration, debate and strong communication are key for these exercises.

Tips and Advice

  • Use people’s names – this is such a simple one, but of the assessments I’ve attended, barely anyone makes an effort to do this. It is the simplest way of building a rapport with someone. Try and get people’s names as soon as you arrive so that when it comes to using them in a team exercise you don’t get it wrong! (which is the best way of screwing up a rapport and showing you have poor relationship/ listening skills)
  • Don’t be afraid to split the group up and delegate responsibilities in some tasks as time can be very short. But make sure it’s appropriate and be sure to reconvene and share information so everyone is involved.
  • Use the whiteboard or flip chart if available and relevant as it becomes easier for assessors to see what you’re doing and how you’re thinking and working. Don’t just huddle round a piece of paper
  • Get the group communicating as soon as possible. In most tasks, there is no individual pre-prep, except for maybe the business case, so there is a tendency to start reading silently to start off. Maybe suggest reading aloud and working through identifying tasks and problems together, right from the off. Avoid the awkward silent bit.
  • Keep an eye on time.
  • Keep the group focused on the objectives if conversation digresses and, as the Streets say, try and push things forward.
  • Agreeing with people, dishing out positive reactions (I love it!) and summarising points are good things to do, but don’t only jump on the back of ideas, come up with your own input too!
  • Watch your tone of voice and body language – make sure it’s not aggressive or threatening (you want some do you!).
  • Make eye contact.
  • Don’t tell someone their idea or input is rubbish/ irrelevant/ useless/ pointless/ etc. There are much better ways of communicating the same thing. Compare: ‘I’m not sure that’s relevant’/ ‘I’m not too sure about that idea because…’ with ‘that’s a rubbish idea’/ ‘that’s irrelevant’. Softy-softy is the best approach, you’re not applying for the marines.
  • Don’t get into an argument

At the end of the day,

Treat your team-mates as if they were client resources

(ie. staff from the client who you are working in a team with; lead them, utilise their skills and be nice to them, their boss is paying your fees)

Check out this uber-useful video from PwC on how to do well in the group exercise:

Well, that’s a lot more to think about than I intended but I think it’s all relevant. Ultimately, it’s about working together, so just be yourself, talk to people, be nice and try to relax into the game.


6 responses to “Group Exercises

  1. This is a really good post consultinggrad…. Its not relevant only for people who are interviewing but in general too.. some very nice ideas to exercise not just good teamwork but also good leadership skills! keep posting!

  2. Wow this website would have been so useful as I went through a graduate assessment centre with an event-organising team exercise just 3 weeks ago. All of the points are valid and extremely good advice. I remember at my AC, I had a member in my team who wanted to lead the group by being the loudest but it doesn’t work, and the assessors see right through people like that. Oh and I got an offer so yay!

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  4. Pingback: Top Team Phrases for the Group Exercise…

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