Surviving Group Projects
We all have had to do group projects and, if you’re anything like me, you dread the experience. Ideally, your teammates can evenly share the load and work together to get the assignment done on time. However, this is rarely the case. Most of us know the dynamic: One or two people doing 90% of the work, someone with good intentions who ends up contributing little, and that one guy that disappears in the beginning only to show up at the end to write their name on the presentation. No matter which of these roles you best fit, everyone can stand to improve on their teamwork.
Listen, Don’t Lead
It’s impossible to sit down at a table of absolute strangers and pick out a leader, but that doesn’t stop people from trying. All too often, the person who tries to take charge at this stage is the least qualified for the job. Everyone thinks they can lead, but very few are actually capable when it comes down to it. It takes a lot of work and coordination to bring a new group together, and this can rarely be accomplished by standing on the backs of others. If this doesn’t convince you to avoid being the manager, just remember that everyone on a sinking ship is quick to point at the captain. Instead of fighting for superiority or drawing straws, use this initial time to narrow down requirements and brainstorm ideas together.
Every hour spent planning can save dozens of hours worth of wasted time and counterproductive labor. In this stage, it is important to remember that just because an idea isn’t yours doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Instead of dismissing bad ideas, turn them into a base and build them into good ones. By building off of each other, you can create a dynamic that everyone is invested in and willing to work together for. Cooperation is key in group projects, and this stage is no exception.
While this point might seem obvious, it is surprising how many groups fail to work together. For example, most groups start off by dividing labor. When you think about this, dividing labor while working together is oxymoronic. Putting one person in charge of creating the powerpoint is useless if they’re not connected to the people doing research. Instead, give everyone a small place in every piece of work. No one person should ever be working on anything alone. This helps facilitate communication and the spread of ideas between the facets of the project.
Assume the Best
One way to keep up positive experiences in your project is to approach everything with a happy attitude. Maybe someone isn’t pulling their own weight, or their quality of work has been dragging the group down. An unanticipated roadblock looks a lot like laziness from an outside perspective. They might even have been confused by the requirements and not realizing that they’re doing anything wrong. Confront your teammate, ask them about what’s going on and what the rest of the group can do to help. If done with a clear mind and level head, this will avoid an argument and get everyone working together again.
While these points don’t solve every problem faced when working with a group, it is definitely a start. The most important point to take from this, however, is that the project is a team endeavor. While your project might be better if you did it all yourself (or maybe you actually did it all yourself), just remember that a project completed like this is useless. They’re called group projects, not “go off on your own and do everything yourself” projects, for a reason. The most important lesson to be learned from these projects is teaching a team how to work together to accomplish a task. The assignment portion is only secondary to this. A real group project teaches communication, teamwork, and, most importantly, respect.