There is a single line that a professor can say aloud or write in their class syllabus that will fill any student with dread.
For this project, you will be working in groups of three or four.
Any number of things could go wrong. What if you get placed in a group of people you don’t know? What if you can’t understand the course material? What if you get stuck with someone who isn’t pulling their own weight?
Rest assured; a group project is nothing to fear. At their best, group projects allow students to learn more about a certain lesson or subject than they could on their own and have something tangible to show for it at the end. To unlock the depths of a group project's potential (or just to get through the nightmare), this five-step outline will give you a place to start working effectively.
- Get to know your new teammates.
According to a study performed by the University of Oxford, sales workers were 13 percent more productive when they were happy as opposed to when they were in a bad or neutral mood. Go a little deeper than everyone’s major or zodiac sign — find out what your groupmates’ passions or special skills are. If something they feel they are good at can be incorporated into the project, then it is more likely to get done. At the very least, it will give you an idea of what everyone can and cannot do.
- List the project requirements and dole them out.
While enjoyment is part of the work, it’s also important to hit all the parameters and make sure your group is doing everything the professor requires of you. Read the project guidelines carefully and make sure everything is accounted for when everyone decides what they are going to contribute. There’s a fair chance this aspect sorts itself out if everyone in the group has an idea of what they want to do, but still be prepared to assign everyone (including yourself) a role in the project.
- Set a timeline for when everything should be done.
According to the Harvard Business Review, project deadlines help members of a group prioritize their work and assess how much work they have to do. The professor’s due date may not be enough — set pace to everyone’s work by setting deadlines for everyone’s individual parts. If one part has to come before another (e.g. you need to conduct a survey before analyzing the resulting set of data), account for that in your timeline too.
- Make sure everything is going according to plan.
Once you plan everything out, find a way to communicate with your groupmates outside of class, like via email, Snapchat or text. Outside of class, everyone will be responsible for their portion of the work, but that doesn’t mean you have to twiddle your thumbs and hope they can pull through. Check in on your groupmates’ progress and see if they need any help with their part. Any problems your group runs into are best solved early.
- String each part together cleanly.
Save a day or two at the end of your project (or more if it’s a bigger project) to check for any errors, inconsistencies or other issues that need to be ironed out before putting all the pieces together and submitting it. Small errors may not seem like something to make a fuss out of, but your grade may suffer a death by a thousand cuts if your project is sloppy or underdeveloped in any way.
This method is a consistent and simple way to complete a group project, but the best laid plans of mice and men always go awry. Each member of the group needs to put in their fair share of work, and not everyone will.
The harsh reality is this: you, as a member of your group, need a product to submit for a grade. If that means pulling someone else’s weight, that is what it means. Luckily, if you followed the above steps in an effort to complete your project, then you have a record of who wasn’t participating and what they were supposed to have done.
Was a team member failing to keep up with the timeline? You can cite that. Did you remind them to do their part, or did you try and help them? You can cite that too. Did they not follow the project guidelines when submitting their work to the group? You can cite that as well — those guidelines were made clear to them at the beginning of the project.
If you need to pick up someone’s slack, submit this information to your professor and negotiate an extension on your project to go back and make full marks on what wasn’t going to get done in time. If you can’t work out an extension, then hopefully the professor will be merciful when docking points on your project. A group project can be a delightful experience, but remember that it is still classwork and should be taken seriously.
With all of this in mind, don’t be afraid to dive headfirst into your next group project. Your future groupmates will thank you later.
Contact Miguel Naranjo by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @naranjo678.