5 Tips for Surviving Group Work

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Group WorkLet me start by saying that I HATE group work. I loathe it! If it was up to me, I would completely eliminate it from the curriculum!

I consider myself an introvert and the thought of working with a group of people I don’t know gives me a nervous breakdown.

But the fact that it counts on my overall grade forces me to participate. And if you are anything like me, you have no choice but to work with your other classmates for those 15 marks.

15 marks may seem little but they make a very big difference on the cumulative grade. What you score in the group assignment is the difference between you getting an A, B or C in that particular unit. Various things are considered in your overall grade but if you get anything above 10 marks, you are in the safe zone.

The good thing about group work is a student has a considerable level of control over it. Typically, you are given an assignment to take home and the students are to hand them back in after a specified period of time.

Here, the student has an advantage in that you have enough time and resources to research on the assignment. It is not like on the main exam where you cannot predict the questions that will be set.

Group WorkHowever, the bad thing is conflicts often arise when a group of people work together. Different personalities aren’t always compatible, especially when you have one or more opinionated members.

Different background experiences affect individual perspectives and sometimes adds to the conflict.

Individuals may have different ideas on how to proceed with the group work, or individuals may have different interpretations of the concepts or project requirements and goals.

Conflict can push the group toward genuine discussion that improves the project, but too much conflict affects the group dynamic and wastes time better spent on the work.

So here are 5 tips I hope will make your group assignment a little more pleasant.

  1. Choose your group members wisely

    If your teacher allows you to choose your own project members, do so with consideration. If you know your friend has three jobs, an internship and a five class schedule, this probably makes your friend a poor partner to work with assuming a group project will likely not be a main priority. If you don’t know anybody in the class, I suggest some light Facebook stalking and striking up conversations with surrounding peers.

  2. Clarify Expectations and Roles

    Early in the process, it’s important to identify a group leader or moderator. He or she will play a vital role in keeping the entire group on task and in making sure that everyone is contributing. In an ideal group, all members contribute equally. In reality, many groups include at least one member who wants to let everyone else do the work. Frustrated group members pick up the slack so that the project is completed with a decent grade.  Once these key roles are assigned, the team needs to identify clear expectations for the project and assign tasks to each individual.

  3. Communicate!

    This is of prime importance for classmates that want to work well together. Make sure everyone has given the group leader his/her email address and cell phone number. Next, consider creating a Facebook page or Google Hangout for your team; you’ll need a real-time, centralized, online location where people can connect when they have questions. And don’t wait until the last minute to ask for help. When you have a problem, post to the group page or call another member. Sometimes, bouncing ideas off of each other can help get those creative juices flowing again.

  4. Deal With Conflicts

    If you think that all individuals on the team are going to get along with each other and be the best of friends, think again. You may end up in a group that has several strong personalities, or worse, one that has a bunch of wallflowers. Mixing unfamiliar people together in a time-sensitive situation can sometimes lead to some serious conflicts. Encourage team members to voice concerns and questions early on, instead of keeping things inside. Just remember that this is a temporary situation and try to make the best of it.

  5. Don’t Procrastinate

    Remember when I said to create a plan? Well, it only works if you actually follow the suggested timelines and meet deadlines. Don’t put off your tasks until the last minute. You’ll only create undue stress for yourself and possibly put your team grade at risk. Tackle assignments early, giving yourself plenty of time to ask questions or make revisions, if needed. If everyone stays on task, you’ll be more confident in your final product and might actually have fun during your presentation.

How do you manage conflict in the team?

  • Start with a whole group discussion on working collaboratively and outlining rules and expectations.
  • Let group members choose their own role in the group.
  •  Instead of breaking into groups randomly, use your knowledge of student personalities to form your groups intentionally.
  • Use a team charter, contract, or other preliminary tool to have students discuss collaborative work before starting on the task. (What do we need to know about each other in order to work together successfully on this project?)
  • Grade individual contributions as well as group product.
  • Form effective conflict resolution methods.

What are some ideas for ensuring that the final product is well integrated?

  • Have one person in the group be the editor, responsible for ensuring a cohesive voice throughout the presentation.
  • Structure periodic check-ins for the groups so that they do not submit all of their drafts at the last minute to be compiled.
  • Use tools that are collaborative in nature such as wikis, google docs or collaborative pin boards so that all of the work is happening in the same place.

Group work allows college students to explore and apply concepts beyond the scope of lectures, but cooperative learning has drawbacks. Personalities, attitudes, schedules and confusion on the material can interfere with productive group work. No matter how you feel about group projects, anticipating the challenges and working through them helps you work better with your classmates.

At some point in your degree you might run into the odd group member who doesn’t really pull their weight. I used to take a passive aggressive approach in my first year and it only stressed me out having it constantly play in my mind at how unfair the situation was. It took me a while to learn that addressing any red flags at their first sign was a much better approach. Not every situation is the same but I found that confidently and assertively addressing any issues was a better approach than pretending that everything was all good to avoid confrontation. Take the situation as an opportunity to practice being cool, calm and collected. You’re going to face more of these later down the track and having experience in confidently working through them is invaluable. If pain persists with the group member, just speak to your tutor about the actions you’ve taken to address the issue.