The Spring semester is drawing near and now is the time when final assignments, take home exams, and the dreaded group projects are now due. Working alone can be great, because you can do things on your own at your own pace and on your own time. There is no one to discuss thoughts and preferences on the way things should be completed. You are not putting your grade in the hands of someone else. Working alone is possibly the best case scenario. Or is it?
Working in groups is designed to help you grow in a variety of ways. Group assignments force you to interact with others. The selection process can be great when you are given the opportunity to select your own group. Friends, the kid next to you that aced every quiz, or even the crush you have had your eye on all semester. However, the selection process can also be daunting if you are randomly selected or placed in pre-assigned groups. Instead of dreading this experience, think of it as an opportunity to grow and learn. Group assignments allow the best parts of each person to shine. Someone will naturally migrate into the role of leader. Someone will be creative and find ways to add their gift to the project. Someone will be organized and create a timeline and ensure the group stays on track. Inevitably there will be someone who waits for a role in the group, and if no role is given they will float along throughout the project. The issues arise when expectations are not set, a non-leader takes on the leadership role, or when personalities clash. Working together can be an enjoyable experience, but you have to tackle concerns from the beginning and do not wait until the last minute to achieve the goals of the group.
Below are 10 things to keep in mind when working in a group.
- Identify the goal of the group. Is it to a PowerPoint, a skit, a debate, a movie, etc.? Refer back to the actual assignment and make sure everyone understands what the professor wants. Ensure you identify this early on and that everyone knows what the overall objective of the group. Making sure everyone is on the same page from the beginning will eliminate a lot of frustration, confusion, ad last minute scrambling.
- Develop and a game plan and identify roles. Each person will have their own strengths. Allow people to identify their areas of strength and competence. However, the assignment is an opportunity to grow, so do not allow everyone to shy away from the “hard” or “difficult portion of the assignment. Everyone will have to step out of their comfort zone at some point in the project. Someone will emerge as the leader of the group. This will come naturally to someone or someone may have to be appointed. Do not allow this position to become a dictatorship, the process from beginning should be a democracy and a collaborative effort to ensure all voices in the group are heard.
- Set-up a timeline. Identify the due date and work backwards from that date to identify milestones for the project. You should have a minimum of 2 meetings before your final meeting to ensure everyone is on target and playing their role. Having at least three meetings will allow you to identify weak links, gaps in the presentation, ensure each person is on target with their portion. When you discuss progress you will be able to see early on if someone is not completing their task.
- Be open to new ideas. People will do things and interpret things differently, different does not mean wrong, just means different. Allow yourself to try new things and be open to a different way of processing the project. Everyone will see things in a different way. The only way the project will be successful is if everyone has the opportunity to infuse a piece of themselves into the final edition. No one should shut down ideas or not consider how an idea could positively impact the final project.
- Bring a positive attitude. From the very beginning, have a positive attitude. Do not show your disgust for group work. Do not let previous experiences negatively impact how you approach this new experience. Do not allow your personally feelings towards individuals affect how you work. Do not allow your distaste for the subject or topic overshadow your contributions to the group. When someone else greets you with negativity respond with positivity.
- Do your part. Nothing is more frustrating than working with a group and someone does not do their part of the project. Ensure you are available to meet. Make sure you are on time when there is a meeting. Bring something to discuss when the meeting takes place. No one wants to hear your excuses about why you cannot meet, why you are late, or how you are struggling to complete your portion. Come prepared and prove to be a strong link.
- Do not take things personal. Group assignments can bring out the best and worst in others. There may come a time when tensions are high and unkind words may be spoken. In these moments, focus on the project and not the person. Focus on the needs of the group and not the person. Do not feed into the tensions, stay focused on the goal.
- Do not involve the professor. The professor does not want “babysit” your group and how you work together. As young adults, you and your peers should be able to work together to achieve the goal at hand. If problems arise you should try everything among the group to resolve your issues without involving the professor. Meeting a minimum of three times will allow you to catch issues early before they can impact the entire project. If you need to involve the professor, it should be related to the goal and expectations not personal conflicts. If there are personal conflicts that cannot be resolved then you should approach the professor with the issues, the strategies you have implemented, and how the group thinks the problem should be resolved. This will show the professor that you are not tattle telling and that there was an attempt to resolve the issues.
- Do a dry run. At some point before the final presentation, the group should complete a run-through of the presentation from beginning to end. Each person in the group should have a copy of the presentation and know the role that each plays and should have an understanding of ALL of the information in the presentation. Focusing on just your area will not give you all of the information about the topic. Emergencies happen, people oversleep, someone could get stage freight; you should be able to present on the topic in the event you are the ONLY person available the day of the presentation. The “show” must go on even if you are the only person there to present.
- Take it seriously. From the moment you receive the topic to the moment you begin the presentation, take it seriously. The entire semester may boil down to this one moment. Your failure to plan and thoroughly think things out could result in a failing grade on the project. A failing grade on the project could result in a failing grade in the class. Do whatever you can to show your professor that you are taking the assignment seriously and want to achieve. Little things like professional attire, a portfolio cover, or a well scripted presentation could go a long way. Taking things to a creative level, involving the audience, or tying things into today’s popular culture can also win major bonus points with the professor.