By Jared Kennedy
Group projects are inevitable in almost every collegiate course. The professor announces the impending doom during the syllabus reading on the first day of class and the thought haunts each student for the rest of the semester. There are, however, several ways to avoid disaster by following a few simple guidelines.
According to USA Today, the seven steps to group project success are: choose group members wisely, figure out the best means of communication, set check-ins and deadlines, take the lead, give a time cushion at the end of the project and stay positive.
The overarching fear of group projects tends to be based on the fear that the other group members will drop the ball, and one student will be stuck picking up the pieces and resultantly producing a lower quality work. When the time comes to choose who to team up with, be wary of the individual who has a full class schedule and several jobs. Though that individual is likely very productive, they may not have the time necessary to give the project the attention it deserves.
Be sure to align with the team members right away on how everyone can best be reached. If there are several forms of communication going on at once, try to simplify by deciding one specific medium. An invaluable resource for students working on a document together is Google Drive. All group members can edit the document, add to it and work on it simultaneously with the provided interactive communication features. In addition, all University of Nebraska at Omaha students have access to a Box account that they can upload files to and share with one another.
Andy Walters, a doctoral student at UNO, says working in a group can be like a game of red rover – the weakest link is sometimes where things fall through. It’s important to recognize that and make sure everyone pulls his or her weight.
Alan Feirer is the consultant, trainer and owner of Group Dynamic, a company that helps people work together and teaches businesses how to develop more cohesive and productive workplaces.
In taking the lead without seeming overbearing, Feirer suggests asking more questions rather than issuing dictating statements. Feirer also says it is better to be completely upfront and communicative so group members don’t become unproductive later due to silent disagreements.
“It is better to over-delegate in a leadership position because the bigger risk is losing group members who don’t think they are valued,” Feirer said.
If it feels as if a team lacks leadership it is important to recognize it early on and begin establishing direction for the group. This doesn’t mean having to ride in on a high horse, it merely means the group needs a little more leadership than it is getting. Taking the lead will not only help grow personal leadership experience, but the group will greatly benefit from good, positive leadership.
“It all comes down to relationships, ask questions and be willing to do some things,” Walters said. “Allow others to step forward and take the lead as well.