How to Survive Group Projects
Even for the most enthusiastic ‘team player’, group projects at university can be the most dreaded to undertake. Firstly, you have to deal with the nervousness (and/or excitement) from wondering who will end up in your group. Once the group has been established, you have to think about how the dynamic will work and, of course, there’s the process of deciding what to do if everyone doesn’t pull their weight equally. A lot of people think that group projects are unfair because you have to make sure everyone is on the same page whilst also getting your voice heard, when all you want is to just get the job done! Of course, there are occasions where you can pick your group mates and often these projects run relatively smoothly. However, that’s not to say a group of friends are immune to clashing, misunderstandings, and even some people taking advantage of the fact that you know each other.
Before we delve into the nightmarish side of everything (and how to survive it), let’s look at the benefits of group projects:
- You can develop your collaboration and communication skills
- If you plan efficiently, your individual workload is usually less than what you’d have to do if the project was a one-person project
- You can pool your expertise and learn from your group mates
- You learn about the types of personalities you’d like to work with again in future
- You can discover how to take ownership of something that was completed by many people
- You’ll get better at debating and persuading others on your thoughts and ideas
If only it was as blissful and positive as this all the time, huh? Well, let’s put these motivational ideas into the forefront of our minds as we tackle the downside of group projects, so that we know what we’re aiming to achieve in the big scheme of things.
Think back to all of those times at college when you had to work with people you knew weren’t going to contribute a lot. Also, think about the times when you were part of a successful project. Try to assess how both the positive and negative aspects of these projects can impact on the way you complete group projects today. Ask yourself these questions (and be brutally honest):
- What went well, and why?
- What went wrong, and why?
- What did you learn about yourself during the process (and are these things helpful in a group situation)?
- What are some things you remember about your group mates and their work ethics that affected the dynamic (both negative and positive)?
- How much of a leadership role did you have? Could you have taken more responsibility?
- Were there any personality types you became aware of and now actively avoid/draw towards?
- What are some examples of ways you avoided/dealt with internal conflict?
- Could you have been more vocal/stepped back a bit?
The Common Problems
Now that you have a bank of memories (or traumas!) and experiences to draw on, let’s address some of those common problems that people face when it comes to group projects (say ‘yass’ if you can relate!):
- There always seems to be one person who leans on everyone else to get by and does the bare minimum amount of work.
- Said person is also usually not very good at accepting constructive criticism or taking responsibility (tip: if this is you, maybe have a look at your strategies and think of how you can NOT be that person).
- Sometimes you end up with too many leaders.
- It can be hard to please everyone.
- Sometimes everyone in the group has similar strengths and weaknesses so it can be tricky deciding who does what.
- Plans can go down the drain and you may need to start over.
So, you’ve asked yourself some honest, constructive questions, and now you’re fully aware of the common issues we all face when it comes to group projects. Let’s look at some fitting solutions that will help you combat these issues:
- Right at the beginning, sit down with your group and discuss your preferences, personal strengths and weaknesses (regarding the subject matter and requirements of the project), and make a plan that everyone is happy with (or can adapt to).
- Talk along the way! Open up the floor to everyone to see how they’re feeling and let them each express how they’re going with their workload.
- Offer to help each other.
- Don’t be afraid to compromise and rejig the work - if something isn’t working, change it up!
- Set up a group on messenger or social media where you can post updates and discuss progress.
- Make a group ‘Trello’ board (Google it - definitely works a treat for collaborative work!).
- Ask for extensions if/when necessary.
- Be agile - sometimes you’ll need to do more hard yards than you expected, but if you’ve all got each other’s back, it’ll be easier to remain flexible yet motivated to finish everything.
- Give each other encouragement but don’t be afraid to have a word with your group mates if they’re holding you back or compromising the project because they’re slacking off. You’re adults, and when you get into the workforce you’ll be expected to hold yourself and your team accountable for inaction and counterproductivity.
It’s not to say that group work is always a mission and horrendously challenging - sometimes it can be the best thing ever and you get amazing outcomes. But overall, it adds an extra layer of effort because you’re in a position where it’s no longer just yourself and your work that you need to worry about.
When it comes to surviving group work, the best way to get through it efficiently is to have a plan from the start which encompasses who will do what, what deadlines you need to meet, and what your plan is if something goes wrong. You also need to make sure that everyone is happy to negotiate the plan along the way if some people move quicker or slower than planned, which often happens. Patience and understanding are at the foundation of making sure everyone feels supported and appreciated, and if you take more time at the beginning to ensure you’ve got a good system in place, there’s no reason you won’t all get amazing grades and feel good about your contribution and output.
By Ellie Bambury