Time slows as the professor’s words pierce through your brain. Your vision blurs and your heart rate increases as your eyes scan the classroom at your potential group mates. It’s the beginning of the school year and your professor is outlining the syllabus.
Oh no. It’s happening again.
“This project is worth thirty percent of your grade. I will be choosing the groups. Please familiarize yourself with your classmates.”
Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.
As no one in particular has said (but should say), “There are the best of groups, and there are the worst of groups.” We’ve all been there. There is the member who does 99% of the work. There is the one who disappears at the beginning of the project and resurfaces at the end, asking you for their presentation lines. Yes, we all know the one- the one who has absolutely no idea as to what is going on, and of course, the one who says they will help out and never does unless nudged repeatedly. Hard.
The Good, The Bad, and the Not So Bad
Everyone is always talking about how group work is good - that it helps you develop time management and communication skills. Before you roll your eyes, you know it’s true. Working in groups (or teams) is the reality of life after graduation. You will have to learn to communicate effectively - that means both listening and articulating your ideas and opinions effectively. You learn how to give and receive feedback, challenge assumptions, delegate tasks, and develop leadership abilities you didn’t think you could. Even through the hard work, it’s always a good feeling to accomplish a project together as a team.
On the other hand, there will always be moments of conflict working in groups. You learn to challenge assumptions and have your own assumptions challenged by others. Group projects often require several steps; critical thinking, brainstorming, and execution. Tackling all of that as an individual can be overwhelming and stressful. Disagreeing with your teammates is not necessarily a bad thing. Embrace diverse perspectives and welcome taking a second look at overarching ideas. The most successful projects are looked over more than once, re-worked, and debated. The important thing is that you develop your own voice and perspective within the group.
Picking Teammates vs. Appointed Groups
If you had the choice, would you prefer to choose your own teammates or would you prefer work groups to be assigned at random? Most people would not choose the latter. Yes, working with your friends seems like a great idea, but more often than not, work does not get done or conflicts regarding the project become a personal matter. Sometimes, working in appointed groups, you can treat it more like a professional setting. Though there may not be an initial friendship or connection, the setting more accurately depicts that of a workplace environment. Personal relationships aside, sometimes you accomplish more or perform better in appointed groups. Sometimes classmates who are your friends may not be the most ideal colleagues. Keep that in mind the next time you work on an appointed group project. Instructors often appoint groups for a reason- they want you to be able to adapt and approach the project knowing little about your group mates so you can overcome that barrier. They may also purposely choose to form diverse groups to facilitate more innovative ideas as every individual brings a different perspective and skill set to the table.
When The $#!% Hits The Fan
When you’re in the middle of a high pressure group work situation, it can be hard to see past the stress, miscommunication and responsibility. But it’s when the proverbial $#!% hits the fan that you can take advantage of leadership opportunities. If members in the group are not cooperating, instead of getting annoyed, think of it as an opportunity to show creative leadership and problem solving skills. See it as a sneak peek into a real-world work environment. You will have management opportunities in the future, and being able to effectively lead a group or project is an amazing skill to have. Every obstacle is a challenge and an opportunity to learn and excel. You will encounter people who are difficult to work with everywhere you go and people who are a pleasure to work with. Once you’ve recognized the difference between the two, work towards becoming a good team member, ask yourself what you want to get out of this experience, and pursue those goals.
Tips for a Successful and Worthwhile Group Project
The key to any successful group project happens at the beginning. It’s hard to pick up the slack when the project deadline starts to loom over you. Set expectations for the group and construct a timeline to hold yourself responsible. When allocating tasks, play to each members’ strengths and methods. Use a simple group project management template to organize and track progress.
Drop us a line for a download of this template.
Divvy up the work as equally as possible. Finish the work before your soft deadlines and understand that everyone has a busy schedule - it’s not just you. Appoint a leader or project manager of the group to manage the tasks and make sure that deadlines are met by the rest of the group. Leadership in the working world is a great skill to have, and developing motivational and leadership skills during group projects is the best place to learn and practice. Ask your group members if they need any additional help if you’ve completed your task, but do not offer to simply complete the task for them. It is a learning experience for everyone.
Work out a meeting schedule from the beginning. Expectations and meetings are useless if they are not consistent. Avoid making exceptions. Hold each other accountable and set soft deadlines for yourself to keep the group on track.
Keep an Open Mind
Conflicts arise in all group projects. This is one of the main reasons as to why group projects seem so dreadful- in a perfect world, everyone would get along and agree on everything. However, ideas are meant to be massaged and re-evaluated. Be open to what your other classmates have to say. More often than not it’s the amalgamation of ideas that are the most innovative. You would be surprised at how well effective listening works in resolving conflict. Don’t take things personally. Understand that your group mates have diverse backgrounds, values, and perspectives.
All in all, I’m sure that everyone can agree that working in teams is tough, but it is something that most jobs require. When you see “team player” in job descriptions, group work is exactly what that employer is referring to. Approaching group projects from with a “big picture” perspective can make all the difference. Think of it as a head-start towards developing and improving your conflict management, communication, and collaboration skills.