Some love it, and some hate it, but everyone needs to do it at some point. Group Work might not be the modus operandi for the majority of your academic career, but somewhere along the line, you will be asked to work with others. Whether it floats your boat or not, you just have to embrace it. Annique shares some pointers on how to approach group work.
In my general experience, group work at varsity either results in a chipper feeling of collaborative accomplishment, or in a frustrated moan of simultaneous dismay and surrender. Group work pretty much comes down to Forest Gump’s box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get. You can end up with a motivated and eager group of champs that work hard, offer lots of cool ideas, and put in maximum effort – but you can also end up with a bunch of sloths who make you do all the work and subsequently leech off the easy mark. That’s life.
Either way, you need to engage in group work at some point, whether it’s for a written task, a tutorial assignment, a group discussion, or practical work. Be glad, because working with others on varsity and college projects or practicals can teach you great skills for post-varsity life, when your career might demand those very abilities. Most careers entail some sort of collaboration, whether it’s making a film, conducting major surgery, or managing a company – if you fly completely solo, you won’t get very far.
And let’s not deny that sometimes group work works out super well, in which case you can learn a great amount about the value of working with other people. If you end up with a group of champs, chances are that you will be much more inspired about your project’s subject matter, and you might even form new friendships. At varsity level, students generally want to do well, so more often than not, group work projects don’t turn out too shabby!
There are so many skills that you can acquire from working in a group, even if you prefer to roam through academia as a lone ranger. It can teach you a lot about yourself too, for example whether you are impatient or over-demanding, or whether you should voice your opinions more clearly.
Some of the skills you can learn from group work are:
- project management & time management
- effective communication
- responsibility & accountability
- negotiation & conflict resolution
- organisation & leadership
- open-minded & critical thinking
- problem solving
- presenting, pitching & public speaking
Good and bad group work experiences can teach you different lessons, and it’s probably a good thing to experience both scenarios at least once. But of course, you want to try and maximise the group work experience in order to do well. Here are some pointers on how to approach group work in order to achieve the end goal of well-accomplished teamwork.
The best way to start any project is to brainstorm. Go crazy and scribble down whatever things come to mind – it’s brainstorming, not brainbreezing. Write down everyone’s ideas and suggestions, good and bad. Once that’s done, you can go through everything as a group and give each other feedback, and together decide what will work and what won’t.
Your ideas might be great, but it’s always better to have a whole platter of ideas sprung from different minds. Brainstorming is a way of presenting your ideas and getting feedback which can make you realise that your idea wasn’t so hot, or it can enhance your idea and make it even better!
You don’t need to be outspoken and overly confident to participate and share your ideas. At varsity level, everyone should be mature enough to give everyone a chance to speak, and appreciate different inputs. It would be a shame if you were silently sitting with a great idea, opinion, comment, or suggestion that could improve the overall result of your project. Plus, group work is very small-scale, so use it as practice for the working world.
Have a Go-To Person
The rolls that different group members play tend to unfold quite quickly and naturally. It has a lot to do with personality and character. Some people naturally lead and delegate, and others prefer to have tasks assigned to them.
In general, someone in each group will willingly take on the role of the go-to person and organiser, keeping a clear overview of tasks at hand and making sure everything gets done (especially if it’s going to be a group mark). Often this works out in everyone’s favour, because the go-to-person enjoys his or her roll, and it takes the project managing responsibility off everyone else’s shoulders. It’s always good to have someone in that position, because you want at least one person who knows exactly what’s cracking and what remains to be completed.
Be Open-Minded and Show Respect
Each group member has a different personality and mentality, and thereby will offer ideas, contributions and points of views that differ from yours.
Don’t be stubborn. You might really like your idea, but you won’t know how good or bad it actually is until you have a reference – listen and consider what your group has to offer, even if you don’t like what you are hearing (if you are the only one who likes your idea, save it for a solo project).
Don’t be critical either. Okay, so maybe you think someone’s idea is bad or not thought-through, but that doesn’t give you the right to crush it and make the person feel belittled. Rather give constructive feedback and find a way to argue why a specific idea might not be ideal.
Yep. It’s not always easy, but it’s the only way any group work can be successful. It’s great to debate about ideas and strategies (really, it is, because it’s a skill to be able to argue for and convince others of your idea). But in the end, you need to decide on one way – and having one or more hotheads in a group is very counterproductive. Whether there is a debate on a certain research strategy, how an argument is best structured, who gets to present what, or even what Powerpoint theme to choose… compromise is necessary.
Pull Your Weight
Sloths, pay close attention (you know who you are). It’s not fair to make other group members do your work for you. Group work is about a joint effort. There is nothing more tedious than chasing after sloths who don’t deliver, spending the whole night compiling everyone’s sections into one document, or emergency-editing someone’s hangover scribbles and copy-pastes.
If you don’t like or understand the topic, or don’t like your group members, that is not a reason not to play your part. Quite frankly, you should be happy that you don’t have to do the whole thing by yourself! And if you choose not to pull your weight, just know that it reflects very negatively on you, and that attitude is going to bite you in the buttocks later in life.
For the champs – you probably already do your best, which is great. However, if you end up in the situation where you are having to pull double or triple your weight, it’s okay to let the sloths know that it’s not on. It’s great to help others, but you shouldn’t have to complete an entire project on your own, especially if there are no individual mark allocations for each member. If you do it anyways because you are determined (or need) to get a good mark, that is a choice you have to make (I can relate).
FYI: You are a major sloth if, during a group work session your group members point out that you haven’t contributed at all, and all you’ve got is this:
Make It Pleasant
Unless you need to complete your project in a classroom or laboratory, you could take your meetings somewhere else – get inspired by brainstorming outdoors on campus, or go to a café. Little things can make group work really pleasant – chuck a slab of chocolate onto the table to get the dopamine flowing, make jokes, and get to know the members in your group a little. In a nutshell, don’t take things too seriously. There is plenty of time for that when you’re crouching over your thesis.
Regardless of whether you are a champ or a sloth, whether you love or hate group work – when it comes to working with others, you need to JUST DO IT. When you work in a group, where you need to divide and allocate different tasks and responsibilities to different group members, you need to be ready to deal with all kinds of people, as well as all kinds of work ethics. It’s time for compromise, tolerance, mutual respect… and kinda just giving it your best. Learning how to work with others and engaging with different personalities and ideas is the whole point of these collaborative tasks.
Even though this is unlikely at varsity level, sometimes a group just doesn’t work out. It could be the general group dynamics, or one troublesome individual (or sloth), or even just a situation where no one really understands the task or information at hand. In such an instance, speak to your tutor or lecturer to see how it can be resolved. Haibo, you don’t want something like that to ruin your experience, overload you with pressure and panic, and fail the assignment.