Group projects in university can either be a major hassle – or the answer to a prayer. Which one it is depends on the type of role you normally take when you are involved in group projects.
There are three group project personality types:
The Leader. This is the go-to guy or girl in a group project. If this describes you, you probably have a generally negative view of group projects. That’s because you not only have to get other members of the group in line, but you often end up doing most of the work yourself.
The going-along-to-get-along type. This describes the attitude of most students for group projects. They’ll do their part – to one degree or another – but they won’t take ownership of the project overall. If this is you, you probably have a fairly neutral view of group projects.
The Coaster. For this student, a group project assignment is equivalent to a get out of jail free card. He or she will do the absolute minimum required – if they’ll even do that. Instead, they’ll ride on the productive coattails of others, all the way to an easy A for the assignment. If this describes you, then you probably love group projects.
So let’s talk to the leaders and the go-along-to-get-along types, who may be aspiring to a higher grade or even a leadership role. What can you do to get the most out of a group project?
Formulate A Concrete Plan Early
The safety in numbers concept tends to break down in group projects, especially if the group is weak or unmotivated. To get around this, you need to have a mandatory meeting early in the process. Insist that everyone be there, and everyone’s contribution needs to be required.
If you are a leader, you should approach the project as if it is a blank canvas, and solicit ideas from the other members of the group. Once a consensus is reached, suggestions made by group members should be immediately parceled out as a personal responsibility. This sounds a little harsh on the surface, but responsibilities have to be spelled out early and clearly, so that you’ll get solid participation from everybody.
The whole purpose of the group is to break a big project into smaller parts, so that no one member carries a larger burden.
Set Individual Responsibilities
This is often where projects breakdown. Individual responsibilities should be defined at the first meeting, and then committed to writing. Someone in the group has to play the role of secretary, and record decisions reached by the group. Before the meeting ends, each member of the group should leave with written instructions as to what is expected of them.
This can be followed up by a more formal outline after the fact, and that outline needs to go out as quickly as possible. And it must be absolutely clear that each person is individually responsible for their piece of the project.
Momentum is a big key with group projects. That means that you will have to meet regularly until the project is completed. If you go too long between meetings, non-producers in the group may take that as a sign that either there is no urgency, or that they simply have plenty of time to do their part of the project.
In between meetings, you need to stay in close communication. You can do that with emails or texting, mainly as a supplement to the meetings where the real work will be done.
Monitor Progress And Shore Up Weak Spots
Just as important, meetings can’t simply be bull sessions, or places where under-performing members provide a litany of excuses as to why they couldn’t do their part. If there are any problems for any of the individuals, suggestions need to be made at meetings that will move the project forward. This doesn’t mean that the leader or any other member of the group takes over the job of a slacker, but rather that suggestions are made that will enable each individual to overcome obstacles.
With each meeting, the group should be able to put the final touches on one or more parts of the project. As completion of the project becomes more visible, that will help to keep motivation high and avoid any last-minute surprises.
How do you feel about group projects?