As we begin a new semester, I would like to be officially the first person to say that group projects SUCK. I will begin my last semester of college next week and am already dreading the group work that I know lies ahead. That being said, I think I’m a pretty effective group member: competent, on-time and willing to work. However, group work gets a bad rap because not every member has those characteristics. If you are not looking forward to the group work that is in store for you this semester, I’m going to outline how you can be an effective group member AND how you can cope with having less-than-effective group members.
1. Develop a Plan
When your group decides when and where you will meet, also decide who will get a table. Will someone already be at the library/Starbucks/Panera and everyone else will join their table? Should the first person there just grab a table? What if all of the tables are taken – do you have a back up plan?
This is also a great time to set expectations for what you will accomplish during your initial meeting. Are you meeting to divide up the work and develop a timeline? Are you working collectively on brainstorming ideas? What exactly will transpire during this meeting?
2. Be on Time
My number one rule for pretty much everything on life is be on time. There is no quicker way to set a good OR bad impression than by your punctuality. Being on time shows that you respect and value your group members’ time and it shows that you mean business.
**What if your group members are late?**
I have been in this situation way more than I care to admit. Not only is this situation uncomfortable because you may feel disrespected, but it requires confrontation. There are a few ways to go about confronting said group member(s), however, I cannot stress enough that some confrontation needs to be made. Here are the two methods that I most recommend:
Method: GroupMe – One of my favorite apps for working with groups. GroupMe allows you to form a group chat with your group members without having to essentially swap phone numbers. In my experience, this is the most common method of communication
How to Confront – “Hey (insert name here), I’m sorry to hear that you’re running late – we will begin working in the meantime. In the future, please be on time so we can all work together.
Method: Face-to-Face – This is uncomfortable. That being said, it’s effective. Keep a calm and friendly disposition, however be firm and purposeful in your words. Once you had confronted the tardy group member(s), continue on with working together – that’s the whole point.
How to Confront – “Hi (insert name here). We started working right at (time you scheduled to meet). Next time we meet, could you be here on time, we need all of the brain power we have to ensure we complete everything well.
3. Come With Ideas
A frustrating part of group work, especially at the beginning, is when you spend half of your designated meeting time twiddling your thumbs trying to decide how you will approach the assignment. Come to the every meeting with ideas. Read through the assignment sheet, print it out, and make notes on it. If you show up to the first meeting with some ideas, you are simultaneously setting an example for the rest of your group members. You are demonstrating to them that they should be thinking about the assignment on their own.
**What if you’re always the only one who brings ideas?**
This sucks – I know from experience. In this case, encourage your fellow group members to elaborate on your ideas. If they don’t have ideas of their own about how to get started, encourage them to help move the assignment forward. Ask group members how they think your idea could fulfill the assignment. How can you check off all of the assignment requirements? Can it be done creatively? Can your idea get transformed into a better idea with their help?
While this is an incredibly frustrating scenario, it is not time for you to take over. The best group work experiences I have had came from truly collaborative groups. Encourage your group members to create a collaborative environment amongst your group.
4. Hold Each Other Accountable
Like in a working environment, group members need to hold each other accountable. If someone drops the ball, (typically) everyone’s grade is impacted. If someone produces less than sub-par work, let them know that laziness isn’t acceptable in this group.
That being said, holding each other accountable only works if (a) everyone does the work they say that they are going to do and (b) if it is done in an effective manner. Chances are if someone produced shoddy work, they already know and feel bad about it. The most effective way I’ve found to hold group members accountable is to collectively decide what works and what doesn’t work and then suggest concrete changes that can be made. Also, invite the creator of the work to voice difficulties they had – maybe they just need a work buddy?
Sometimes, I find that I’m the group member producing less than their best work. If you are also in this position, be open with your group members and ask for help if you need it. Chances are if someone isn’t able to help you themselves, they can point you to someone or a resource that can help you.
I hope you found these tips helpful and use them in your future group work opportunities. Let me know in the comments if you have any other tips for being an effective group member.
How do you make the most out of less-than-perfect group work?