When your professor announces there is a group project in the course, do you groan? Me too. Let’s face it, group projects with people you don’t know are usually demanding and stressful endeavors. In my experience, they’ve never been great. They’re either pretty good at best or terrible at worst, but there are ways to make the process a little more bearable.
Set Up Communication – and Quickly
The sooner your group can set up some system of communication between all the members that is convenient, the better. There are many, many platforms available. If you are not familiar with GroupMe, it is a wonderful app where you can open a group conversation by simply entering everyone’s cell phone numbers. The best part is that it works for all phones. The messages will come in one, succinct text message. Phew.
Besides GroupMe, there’s also regular text messages, emails, Skype, Whatsapp, and many other group message services. The reason it’s a good idea to start on this early is so that brainstorming and idea suggesting can start as soon as possible. It also ensures that no one can say later down the road that they were “out of the loop.” It keeps everyone accountable.
Choose a Leader
Sometimes it is clear who should lead, and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes one person will step up to the role, and other times the group just needs to throw someone into the job. However it happens, there has to be a leader, or someone running the show.
This does not mean they are the decision maker as much as an organizer for the group. This person will record what happens and gets decided at meetings then fill in those who missed the discussion. The leader will remind everyone of important dates and meeting times via the chat. They will facilitate discussion, and they can delegate equal parts of work to each group member.
For me, it has always been much easier to have someone running these logistics than to have each member fending for themselves.
Communication and Cooperation
Group members do not ask for help when they need it, and their teammates do not lend a hand on a section that is not their own. Everyone is struggling to prove they are a contributing member so that no one docks them in the group evaluations, and we tend to forget that we can and should help each other.
If the work is ever divided unevenly, offer to take some of the load off of the unlucky one. It’s likely that your example will encourage other group members to help out more wherever they can.
I also find that in my research to do my own part, I will find something that may be of use to one of my group members. If you are in a similar situation, share what you’ve found on the group chat. You never know how it could help.
Dealing with Slackers and Radio Silence
This is my pet peeve when it comes to group projects: people who do not show up and contribute or people who have completely fallen off the radar and from which you can get no response. There is almost always one, but it’s important to be patient and fair.
As we never know what is going on in the lives of other people, it’s a good idea to voice your thoughts to another group member to see if they know more about the missing person’s disappearance. Never instantly cast out a person because they fell through one or two times. Never call them out in front of the others (especially if you’re the leader), put them down, or be rough.
Instead, it may be enough to privately and gently ask them to figure out why they have been absent. And once that is sorted out, goodwill is restored, and the person can still find a way to contribute to the group.
As for the radio silence, if they never show up, never respond, and generally don’t lift a finger, by all means let the professor know. Most professors will adjust grading fairly so that the slacker is not rewarded for work they did not do. But again, make sure you’ve given the person several chances and reached out to them. Discuss with your group members as well to gain a consensus on what to do.
These tips are stepping stones to increasing the productivity and satisfaction of a group project. We all know it can be a dreadful process, so why not try out one or all of these techniques the next time around? You may just end the semester with a new group of friends. Good luck!
Angela Coquis is a junior at the University of Texas at Dallas. She is majoring in Management Information Systems and wants to live abroad and pursue a career in database management. She enjoys Virtual Campus and her dream job is owning a bakery.