Group projects can be among the more challenging assignments you’ll tackle in college. But this bad reputation has more to do with the group members than the assignments themselves. If you’re paired with difficult or disengaged group members, it can make the entire process harder than it needs to be, and working with others generally comes with personality conflicts. So how do you successfully get through a group project?
When working on a group project you need to strive for five things: Understanding, Responsibility, Organization, Communication, and Cooperation.
With a group project, you want to start on the right foot. How you begin can set the mood for the entire project.
The best way to begin is to make sure all group members understand the assignment. This will make completing the assignment easier for everyone and starts you on the path to a good grade. Take time to go over the instructions or prompt together and break them down into key points. Be sure everyone in the group understands the assignment before proceeding to the planning stage.
A group assignment, like any other assignment, requires personal responsibility. Group members should pull their weight, but they should also take an active role in the group. Students should accomplish tasks and be able to measure their contributions through self-management and accountability.
While you can float by with only one group member doing the work in high school, projects become much more difficult and time-consuming in college. Without every group member pulling their weight, the entire group’s grade can be affected heavily. Don’t be afraid to set the expectation that there will be no free riders in your group.
1. Determine what your assignment is.
Discern what is being asked of you. What is the assignment and what does your group need to do to complete it? When you know what your assignment is, break it down into key points. Know what is expected of you and where you need to start. If you are to choose a topic to cover, know the options and criteria you must meet. You may be asked to meet a word or slide count or a certain number of sources – be sure to adhere to those.
Ex: My group is assigned a 15 slide presentation on the Battle of Yorktown. From this information, we can determine:
- The project is a presentation.
- The subject is the Battle of Yorktown.
- Criterion includes a 15 slide count.
2. Assign roles.
Groups often take a “divide and conquer” approach to projects, opting to split the work among themselves, making sure all group members have a job or task to work on independently. Other groups work all together nearly every step of the way, using their combined skills to tackle the work. Whatever group you find yourself in, assign roles to each member of the group, and define the responsibilities that come with the titles. Individual contribution is key to having an effective work group. Having roles will make the project run more smoothly and can aid in decision making and problem-solving. Potential roles include project leader, note taker or recorder, organizer, and editor.
3. Create a timeline.
From start date to due date, plan and schedule key points of the project’s timeline. Decide as a group when you’d like certain tasks to be completed and how you’ll go about meeting deadlines. Your group should also try to find time to meet in person or online to work together, give updates, and check-in on overall progress.
4. Set goals.
Decide as a group what you’d like to achieve during this project and how and when you plan on accomplishing your goals. Some goals you might try to set are completing tasks by a certain date or gaining knowledge on the subject you’re studying.
Communication is the sharing of information, thoughts, and ideas. Without proper communication, group members can cause major damage. Key points and details may be missed, group members may become lost or left out of the loop, and the project may become jumbled because of the clumping of several people’s work with no neatly packaged final product.
You want to be able to easily contact your group members in and outside of class to work on your project, address any issues, and be overall prepared for the due date. How you do this is up to your group, but the goal is to be easily accessible. Exchange numbers, set up study sessions in person or over the phone, and use messaging apps to keep in touch.
You also want to share information and resources in a convenient and reliable way. Shareable documents like those on Google Docs’ and collaborative organizational tools like Padlet and Hive are great for organizing and storing info to be used by many people at once. Having materials available to all group members will benefit the group in the long run, allowing for independent work and seamless integration of separate ideas and resources.
TIP: Want to improve group communication? Check out ezTalks’ “How to Improve Communication and Collaboration in the Workplace”
Cooperation – Improving Group Dynamics
How to deal with difficult project team members
When working with a disengaged or uncooperative group member, you have three options:
- What is the problem?
Are your groupmates lazy? Demanding? Problematic? Some issues are more easily fixed than others, so decide if your partner can be persuaded or appeased, if compromises must be made, or if there is simply no reasoning with your difficult peer.
- Try to come to an understanding.
If your groupmates can be reasoned with, help them understand the importance of working together, if only for the project. Insist on cooperation or compromise and hopefully, you’ll get through to them.
- Inform your professor.
If you find there’s no working with a group member, contact your professor to request mediation or to help decide how to proceed. If you cannot gain cooperation, your professor can assist in finding a solution.
- Deal with it and do the work for them.
This is actually a non-option or last resort. Allowing free riders to go on without contributing will only increase the workload of the rest of your team and do nothing to prevent this sort of behavior in the future. While it is a choice you can make, it is not one that will benefit you much. Consider other alternatives before you choose to stick it out.
TIP: Want to know more about improving group dynamics? Check out MindTools’ “Improving Group Dynamics – Helping Your Team Work More Effectively”
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