The group exercise is a central and crucial element in the assessment centre. Group exercises are used to assess how you interact with others and to gauge your impact and influence when working in a team. Typically, you will be given a problem or scenario which requires a collective decision to be taken. This is usually presented in the form of a brief, which also includes a strict time limit when the result of the discussion will need to be conveyed to the assessors.
This type of exercise is often the only one that explicitly examines your behaviours with regard to group work, for example:
• Your ability to work in a team
• Your social skills
• Your ability to take initiative and influence others
• Your manners and emotional intelligence
• Your independent mindedness
In addition to these, the exercise may also require you to demonstrate: planning, organising and strategic thinking skills. However these are usually secondary to the interpersonal communication and social skills shown above.
It is very rare for someone in any job to work alone so interpersonal skills and teamwork are absolutely essential to almost every role. This may be the only opportunity during your Assessment Day to show the assessors your competencies in these areas. It is not easy to practice this type of exercise, but you can ensure that you are familiar with all the appropriate behaviours you need to exhibit.
You can also make sure that you have a thorough understanding of your new organisation’s ethos and the values it considers important.
The majority of group exercises are done with a group size of 4-8 people as this will give everyone the opportunity to contribute. It also makes it possible to assign one assessor to each candidate, which makes detailed observation and marking easier. Some Centres’ do have groups larger than 8 but it is rare for the group size to be much larger than this because of the problems of creating a unified group within the timeframe of the exercise.
There are three basic formats that can be used at your Assessment Centre:
The structure of the group is left entirely to the group itself to work out. The group will be given a problem to solve or a situation to resolve within a set time frame.
Advantages – You can choose your own role within the group, which best displays your strengths. Your contribution to the group is totally under your control.
Disadvantages – depending on the group of people you find yourself with you could spend more of your time competing for certain roles or an over politeness in deciding how to progress. Either of these could result in your group rushing into a decision or not achieving the required goal of the exercise.
Each candidate is set a specific task on which they must lead the discussion. This task forms part of the problem or solution. For example, each candidate is assigned a role within a special project team who have been ask to report to the board of the testing of a new product.
Advantages –The clearer terms of reference make it easier to know when you can contribute to the overall decision or solution.
Disadvantages – The task you have been given may not play to your strengths so that it is more difficult for you to illustrate them. Each candidate may become so absorbed with their specific task that the overall group objective is forgotten or neglected and a hasty decision is the final outcome of the exercise.
A role is assigned to each member of the group and is the role they perform during this exercise. For example: chair person, secretary, finance controller, personnel, sales, public relations or production. These roles may be assigned at random or there may be some logic to it. For example, if your experience lies in the financial area and you are assigned the role of personnel officer, this may be done deliberately to assess your man-management skills, which are an important aspect of the new role.
Advantages – You know exactly who and what you need to do within the group. From the outset you are aware of the other candidates’ roles and how you should interact with them as if you were in the new job already.
Disadvantages – Being assigned a specific role may limit your contribution if most of the discussion time is spent on areas other than your own.
Types of Scenario
The type of scenario used in group exercises vary from physical problems, for example: how to build a bridge over a stream using materials provided, to purely theoretical problems which can be solved by discussion. The letter inviting you to the assessment centre will make it clear if you need outdoor clothing or not. The agenda may also provide so clue as to your type of group exercise by its location e.g. meeting room, sports studio, the woods, etc.
The main themes of a ‘Group Discussion’ exercise often take one of the following forms:
The group will be presented with a critical incident that has occurred and be asked to respond to this event. It could be an operational issue that needs to be resolved i.e. your supplier has just doubled the price of your product’s raw materials or new legislation will affect tha way that you do business in the future. The group have to decide how this change impacts on the business or organisation and present their findings.
The scenario may be more strategic, for example: There has been a leak to the press on your organisations future direction, or your share price has seen a dramatic fall. You are asked to present or prepare your groups response and show how you would minimise the impact on the organisation.
You will be provided with a full brief on what the Organisational issue is and a clear objective you have to meet. Your group may have to address the personnel issues of a re-organisation, the financial implications of a merger or the operational impact of an acquisition. The exact nature of the issue you will have to address will be directly related to the nature of the role, for example: technical, strategic, operational etc.
The group will have to assess what impact this particular change will have on the organisation and put forward suggestions as how to address this issue in the best way for the Organisation. The level of position you are applying for will influence whether or not you prepare a presentation or a report.
Problem Solving & Simulation
You will be given a detailed description of the problem you face and as a group you will have to agree on a form of action to resolve the problem presented. The type of problem or simulation will have a direct correlation with the role for which you are being assessed. So technical roles will be faced with problems of a technical nature to solve, management will have a resource issue to address etc.
Your group may be asked to address a particular aspect of a prospective business venture e.g. transfer of staff, or to assess the appropriateness of a possible future strategy. Whilst for certain high level positions a written proposal may be the required outcome it is more likely that your group will have to present their findings.
The majority of the scenarios you will be presented with during your assessment centre are too complex to be solved within the time frame allowed for the exercise. Don’t be put off by this - you don’t have to solve the problem or issue presented. What you are being assessed on is how you deal with it, how you behave within the group and how you ensure that an outcome is arrived at.
Whilst you are preparing for your group exercise it is important to keep in mind the behaviours that the assessors will be looking for.
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What are the Different Types of Assessment Centre?
What Format Does an Assessment Centre Take?
Who are the Assessors?
What are Assessment Centre Exercises?
What is an In-Tray Exercise?
What is a Presentation Exercise?
What are Group Exercises?
What are Role Play Exercises?