How to Best Handle Group Projects in College

As a senior in college, I know that group projects are inevitable.

Recently, I worked with a partner on a presentation on early American designers. Although we finalized what each of us were going to do, she didn’t send me her information until 2 A.M. – the night before the presentation. I woke up extra early to check over our PowerPoint before submitting it to our professor.

Group projects are a great way to boost your leadership skills. (Credit: Taylor Fukui)

Group projects are a great way to boost your leadership skills. (Credit: Taylor Fukui)

Of course, there is another side to group projects. Sometimes you get to build a friendship with your group or partner. On one group project, we all became friends and ended up delivering a solid presentation and paper.

Group projects prepare you for the future

My retired CEO professor always stresses that life isn’t fair and in the real world you won’t get to choose who you work with. As you can probably guess, he doesn’t want to hear anything about problems in groups. I have to admit, he has a valid point. In the workplace, you will have colleagues that slack off or put their work in.  Group projects help prepare you to deal with people who have different styles.

Group projects can be a rough ride or a smooth sail. Follow these steps to best handle projects and minimize stress:

1.    Brainstorm ideas with all members.

When you first assemble in your group, make sure that you hear from all members – if they are quiet, ask them what they think. By bringing all ideas to the table, each member feels like part of the project and will want to put their effort in.

2.    Assign roles when everyone is present.

It’s easy to exchange contact information and shrug off decisions until later. BUT deciding and agreeing on what each person will do creates accountability and a clear understanding among members what their role is.

3.    Establish a vision.

Agree on what the topic of the project will be. Confirm how the project will be delivered and what the vision is for the final product. By creating a vision, the group understands how to style their work and what the group is aiming for.

4.    Agree on one medium for communication.

You have your group and your goal. Now decisions of each person need to be communicated to the rest of the group. I have found the best way to communicate with people in my college is through the university email. Use technology to your advantage: Facebook, Skype, Google documents and Google hangouts are also all good ways to communicate.

 5.    Pick a Leader. 

A group leader ensures everyone is pulling their weight and that the project is on task. Pick someone who is trustworthy and desires to earn a good grade. The leader finalizes the assignment for the final submission. Don’t forget to give members a copy of the whole assignment in order to avoid misunderstanding and prevent presentation confusion.  Clearly tell your group members that you will let the professor know if someone does not do their work.

6.    Set a deadline.

For my business class, my assigned partner is a foreign exchange student. My partner and I are required to turn in business case analyses weekly. Due to his limitations of the English language, he does not write well. By agreeing on an earlier deadline, I have time to edit the paper and ask him to elaborate more if I don’t understand. Setting an earlier deadline prevents last minute fixes and all-nighters.

7.    Go over the work together.

Last semester, I worked with a group to deliver our end of the semester presentation. We met various times to ensure our individual research and sources were right. By going over each other’s parts, we caught mistakes early and were aware of our presentation layout.

8.    Stay Positive.

Setbacks happen. Getting frustrated or angry doesn’t help team members; instead everyone will just get defensive. Be open-minded and encourage others to do their best.

9.    Tell your instructor.

If a member fails to do their work, let the professor know who it is and that everyone was notified of their role. Some of my professors state that they don’t want to hear problems from groups, and even if that’s the case, ask the professor privately “[Student’s Name] isn’t responsive to our group communication and refuses to do his/her work. What would you suggest we do?”  That way, the professor can help you find a way to get them on board and are aware of what is going on in the group.

As mentioned before, group projects are bound to happen during your college career. While they can be frustrating, it’s important to focus on the positives you gain from group projects. By following the above steps, you are sure to have a successful experience with your future group members.

What other tips are there to ensure a smooth sailing ride with group projects? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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