Most university students dread group projects, as the loss of control over their final grade combined with the difficulty posed by working effectively in a group can cause stress and anxiety. However, group work is vital to developing skills necessary for the workplace and has been shown to improve both the personal and social development of students, making it more educationally valuable than it may first appear. Therefore, we here at EDUopinions have compiled a list of ten key tips to help you excel at collaboration and communication and make the most out of your group work scenarios.
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1. Ensure Multiple Methods of Communication
In the modern era of online connectivity, you may take the ability to communicate easily with your teammates for granted. However, students often fall into the trap of securing only one method of communication with other group members which can lead to some awkward scenarios. Relying on Facebook or email alone can backfire if one group member loses WiFi connectivity or takes a trip abroad. Prevent a loss of communication by providing each other with your full name, phone number, and Facebook Messenger detailsAnalogueog forms of communication such as phones will act as failsafes if internet options become unavailable. If you are uncomfortable sharing that much personal information with other group members, use student email addresses and agree on a neutral place to meet and discuss options if a tech emergency arises.
2. Agree on a Definitive Plan
The beginning of a group project can often be hectic, and miscommunication surrounding the assigning of roles and work expectations can often occur. Therefore, the first priority of your group should be to create a full shared timetable. Create one document that has lists of everyone’s responsibilities and gives a rough time frame in which these roles should be completed. Work on this collaboratively so everyone is in agreement as to what is expected of them. Ensure everyone has a copy of the same completed timetable so they know not only what is expected of them, but also what other group members are working on, giving them a better idea of where their work fits into the overall project.
3. Set a Group Goal
Group psychology has found that, when groups have a clear goal towards which they are working, their performance as a team improves. Without a transparent discussion of what each member wants to achieve, the group will be unable to work harmoniously towards any of the individuals’ goals, leading to the demoralisation of team members who are aiming for higher grades or a deeper understanding of the subject as they may feel that the project is not meeting their expectations. Setting a group goal helps address these issues by consolidating all the members’ separate goals into one end goal for the group that can provide a morale boost by offering an end point towards which the progress of the group can be measured.
4. Play to Individuals’ Strengths (and Support Their Weaknesses)
When assigning roles in a group project it is important to take into account personal preference, alongside individual strengths and weaknesses in order to ensure each member of the group is working as efficiently as possible. Alongside careful allocation of tasks, time and workload should also be adapted to fit each person, for example, if someone in the group is finds public speaking difficult, allowing them more time to practise and complete their spoken segments than their written ones is common sense that will allow them to complete all aspects of their work to the same standard. This may involve giving different deadlines for each segment of work for each group member tailored to their particular abilities which, whilst it may seem initially daunting, will create an effective and efficient team in the long run.
5. Make Sure You Meet in Person (Frequently)
Whilst it may seem tempting and time efficient to simply email or message group members throughout the project, in-person meetings are vital to ensure coherent communication and discussion between all parties. Ideas and concepts can often be misconstrued in written messages and many of the nuances of conversation can be lost, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts between group members. For this reason, frequent in person meetings are important and should be scheduled from the beginning of the group project. These meetings should be flexible, able to be re-arranged if required, whilst being prioritised as one of the key forms of communication between group members.
6. Make Sure Your Work has a Collaborative Voice
One of the key complaints students have about group project is the lack of control over the final product, as a project created by several individuals can often feel fragmented and disorganised. To prevent this, ensure you prioritise a collaborative voice for the finished piece, working with each group member to ensure your points flow naturally into each other and promote a clear overall narrative. You may need to rearrange or reorganise segments to create a more coherent structure, so ensure you run through presentations or pieces as a whole, together as a group. If you read through the completed piece and can no longer tell where one individual’s work ends and another begins, you will have succeeded in mastering the collaborative voice.
7. Make Use of Collaborative Technology
As stated above, creating each segment of the work separately and bringing them together can sometimes lead to a disjointed feel, and the project can feel like several independent sections rather than a cohesive whole. Another key way to combat this and promote a collaborative voice, is to make use of collaborative apps such as Google Docs or Google Slides to work collectively on the same document. These apps allow you to create one coherent document, allowing you to comment and make suggestions on each others’ work promoting communication and leads to the creation of only one document that all members have identical copies of. Apps like this also allow you to monitor the progress of other team members and allow you to write reactively to their contributions, leading to a more cooperative work environment.
8. Be Respectful of Others’ Schedules
As all university students know, it is increasingly rare for a piece of work or group assignment to be the only project a student needs to complete within that time frame. Bearing this in mind, make sure you enquire about other members deadlines, extracurriculars and part time jobs and schedule around these accordingly. In keeping with this idea, whilst a reasonable level of communication can be expected, do not expect group members to reply instantly or drop everything to come to a rescheduled meet up. Being respectful of others schedules and workloads reduces conflict and animosity between members and bringing up these possible issues during initial scheduling can prevent scheduling conflicts arising in the first place, increasing group productivity.
9. Make Sure to Give Other Teammates’ Contributions Credit, Value, and Praise
Tensions can run high in group projects and it can be easy to find flaws in others work and desire to point them out constantly, especially when your grade can be affected significantly by the standard of work they submit. However, whilst constructive criticism is of course important, it is also important to praise teammates when their work is of a high standard and confirm the value of their contributions as this will encourage a higher overall standard of work and increase group morale. Proper credit is also important to help other team members feel valued and credit should be given where due, both on the work itself and in any reflections or reviews of the project you may be asked to submit.
10. Learn to Take Constructive Criticism and Encourage Alternative Points of View
When starting a group project, each individual has a distinct vision of how they would like the project to be completed and what direction they believe the group should go in. Some of these ideas or suggestions may clash with your own, and instead of overriding or dismissing these ideas, focus on finding the merit in the diversity of perspective that different group members with different backgrounds can offer. Using their alternative ideas in tandem with your own will only work to strengthen the overall piece. Group members may also offer critiques or criticisms of your work and whilst this can initially be disheartening, these opinions may help you spot flaws or inconsistencies in your work you otherwise may have missed, leading to better work overall, and therefore should not be dismissed outright.
In conclusion, group projects can be daunting and can pose many challenges not present in more traditional projects, however, they also provide a completely different working environment that may challenge you in ways that help you develop new communicative and collaborative skills, producing more dynamic work overall. These tips were designed to help you overcome the challenges group work can pose and amplify the benefits group work can provide, so good luck!