How to get through your next group project

Tired of group projects? Whether it’s writing a research paper, a research project or any other assignments where you have to work with others, surviving the experience can be challenging.

How many students feel about a stressful group project. (Credit: Meme Mage)

How many students feel about a stressful group project. (Credit: Meme Mage)

How do you get everyone to do their fair share and do it on time? Why is it that you’re the one who ends up carrying the heavy load? Here are a few tips and ideas on how you can survive and even thrive in your next group project.

Benefits of groups

Ellen Sarkisian provided a complete guide for both faculty and students on Working in Groups for Harvard University.

According to Sarkisian, there are many benefits that come from working in groups and it helps to communicate those benefits to the students who may be skeptical about the value of group projects.

These benefits include:

  • exposure to a wide variety of viewpoints
  • a chance to work on a project that is too large for one individual
  • giving students a chance to teach each other

On the flip-side, group projects can also have some problems which can include:

  • participants who dominate the conversation (or those who are too passive)
  • allowing off-topic issues to waste time
  • feuds between group members

Sarkisian offers some suggestions on how you can diffuse these situations. Basically, you keep it non-personal.

Group project survival tips

First of all, if you get the chance to choose your group members, be sure to choose based on ability, not based on friendship. The project is not for fun, it’s for a grade. So get real. Find out who has the time and the ability to get the work done. While your friend may be smart, if her schedule includes two jobs and kids, she may not be the best candidate.

Other tips for survival came from Ashley Ritter in her May 20, 2012, post for USAToday.com, “7 tips for surviving a group project.”

Ritter’s tips include:

  • have all members use a Gmail account and Google docs for communicating and collaborating
  • assign specific tasks to each group member
  • set periodic check-ins throughout the project
  • set a due date for work that is earlier than the project due date

Most of all stay positive. “By focusing on the positives instead of the negatives, you give yourself the chance to learn the most out of each project and apply it to the real world,” Ritter said.

Group project slacker control

There’s always one in every group – the slacker who seems to think that a group project gives them license to goof off and ride on everyone else’s efforts. What do you do?

Ellen Bremen, The Chatty Professor, provided insight in her April 9, 2013, post for EllenBremen.com, “How Do I Deal with a Slacker on a Group Project?

When dealing with a slacker, Bremen recommends that you regroup and reestablish who is doing what. Tasks will need to be reassigned so that everything is covered and members must claim accountability for their part. Have a clear plan that includes deadlines for when tasks will be completed.

Bremen sees no need to go to the professor for help unless the slacker is grappling with a genuine life issue.

It’s also a good idea to establish a scheme for evaluating the work that is done. Bremen suggests that you turn in these evaluations even if you are not required to do so.

“I can’t emphasize enough not to waste your time with drama. Keep everything ‘business’ as much as you can. The slacker will learn soon enough that working this way just doesn’t work. Hopefully your prof will make things equitable,” Bremen concluded.

Team charter

In a December 8, 2011, article for PowertoChange.com, writers detailed “Study Skills: Team Work Skills for Group Projects.”

Step number one on the list is to create a team charter that outlines the group goals, methods of communication, schedule for group meetings, conflict resolution and a “kick-out” clause stating what will happen if a member doesn’t perform.

Other tips include:

  • Be patient and don’t take it personally if someone shoots down your idea
  • Assign tasks according to each member’s abilities
  • Set deadlines so that things are not left to the last minute

Finally the writer suggested, “Refrain from gossiping about other members and try to help one another as much as you can. After all, who knows? You may even come out of the experience with a friend or two.”

What suggestions do you have for surviving a group project? Tell us in the comments.

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