Group projects can be one of the most challenging types of assignments a college student has to face. As if it weren’t enough work managing your own time and productivity, group projects necessitate that you share the responsibility of keeping everyone else on track too. However, the ability to collaborate effectively with people who have learning and communication styles that may be vastly different from your own is an impressive skill valued by professors and employers alike! The next time you see the words “group project” on the syllabus, keep these tips in mind to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible:
Get to Know Your Group Members
Before you dive into planning your project, take a little time to get acquainted with your group members. Ask each member to share their major, academic and/or professional background, and what they consider to be their strengths. Getting to know each other will help you decide how to delegate the workload. For example, a Sociology major who loves working with data might be the best person to design any charts or graphs you need. Likewise, an English major with strong writing skills might excel at writing your abstract or editing your final report.
Keep In Touch
Get each group member’s name, email address and phone number during your very first meeting. Consider establishing a group text or Facebook group for the project, and check in with updates often.
Get (and Stay!) Organized
Once each task has been assigned, set clear deadlines for the completion of each component of your project. Schedule a regular check-in meeting that works with everyone’s schedule, and reserve a space so that you don’t waste group time finding a place to work. Create a shared calendar that clearly lists each deadline and meeting date. According to Kasia Jaworski from Her Campus, Google Drive is wonderful for group projects, because “you can set up Word documents, spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations that all group members can access and work on. It eliminates sending a thousand emails back and forth with edits, which may lead to mistakes and missing parts. All members can work individually on their parts while seeing what other group members have added. It allows everyone to keep your project cohesive as it progresses” (http://www.hercampus.com/life/academics/how-survive-group-projects).
Anticipate and Manage Conflict
It’s natural for conflict to arise at some point during the course of the project. The key is to respectfully address the issue early on, before it leads to major headaches down the road. If you find that you have a conflict with another group member, it’s important to examine your own behavior first. Remember, group projects require that you draw upon both your leadership skills and your ability to apply constructive criticism and to compromise. Your goal should be to participate actively without monopolizing the group. If you feel like you have a tendency to dominate or micromanage in group work settings, remember to give everyone a chance to voice their thoughts and concerns, and be open to compromise. Conversely, always be sure that you are actively contributing to the group by communicating often and effectively, and by turning in quality material on time. If you find that it’s a fellow group member who is being overly controlling or not contributing their fair share of the work, it’s important to tactfully speak up. For example, you could encourage a bossy group member to ease off the reins by assuring them that you are just as invested in the project as they are and you’d really like to contribute more of your work and ideas. Only a very unreasonable person would be unwilling to compromise after you’ve made such a polite and well-intentioned request!
Of course, the classic worst-case scenario when it comes to group projects is having a group member who continuously fails to pull their weight by failing to meet deadlines and/or turning in subpar work (we’ve all encountered this guy at least once). Always do your best to correct the problem first by stressing to your wayward group member just how much you are all depending on them, and by offering helpful suggestions and encouragement. However, if all of your efforts to intervene are unsuccessful, it’s time to let your professor know what’s going on. Since you’ll be able to document what steps you’ve already taken to resolve the conflict on your own, they’ll be less likely to allow that group member’s lack of participation to impact your grade.