TL;DR – Group work is tough, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are five ways to make it better: 1) Be a team player, and do the job nobody else wants to do; 2) Play to your strengths as a team by assigning everyone to the task they are best at; 3) Don’t slack off. Do your fair share of the work; 4) Be considerate of your teammates, and don’t make them wait for you to finish your portion of the assignment; 5) Meet in person to discuss important issues.
There is, perhaps, nothing that echoes louder than the guttural groan elicited from deep within the craw of the student whose class has just been assigned a group project. Their head turns frantically, in desperate search of friends to work with, before bowing in sorrow at the news of assigned groupings. A couple appalled students raise their hands in protest, but the professor dismisses their objections, saying “in life you will have to work with people you don’t like.”
We have all been there. And much as it may seem that group work is inevitably intolerable, inhumane, and inefficient, it doesn’t have to be; you have the means to make group work. . .work. Use these five tips for putting the “Pro” in your “Group Project”.
- Understand Group Dynamics
Group dynamics refers to the way team members interact, the roles they fill, and how this affects the performance of the team. Understanding these dynamics is important so that you can assess what the team is lacking, and how you can fit into a role in a way that helps your team. If your team needs a leader, be a leader. If your team needs a mediator, be a mediator. The bottom line is you must do what is best for the group, not what’s best for your ego.
- Use Comparative Advantage
Comparative advantage is a concept from economics. Put simply, you have a comparative advantage in an activity when you are better or more efficient at that activity than another. When dividing labour amongst group members you can use comparative advantage to your advantage by assigning tasks to teammates based on what they are best at. This allows you to perform the same work quicker than if it was divided arbitrarily.
- Do Your Part
This should go without saying, yet it seems as though every group inevitably has a member or two who sit back and watch everyone else do the work. Don’t be this person. Do you fair share of the work. People will respect you for it, and your group will be better off.
- Be Considerate
Often the tasks for a group project can only be completed in a certain order. This means that someone may be waiting for you to finish your part of the assignment before they can begin theirs. Be mindful of this, and don’t wait until the last minute to complete your allotted work. It puts your team member(s) in a very difficult position, and overall it harms the group process and outcomes.
- Meet in Person
Mobile phones and social media are great for staying connected, and therefore can be an excellent tool for group projects. However, they are not great for conveying tone or body language, and not everyone checks their phones frequently. For important conversations, try to find a time when you can meet face-to-face. Many miscommunications can be avoided just by speaking in person.
Next time you are assigned a group project, don’t moan and groan. Just roll up your sleeves, get to work, and apply these tips. You’ll be a group project professional in no time, and who knows? You may discover that you actually enjoy group work.