Most university students will encounter at least one group project while obtaining their degree. While the type of project can differ drastically from major to major, students usually face the same challenging aspects of working with a group of other students. In this article, I will break down the approach I learned over my years of being a student for a smooth group project experience.
- Meet as a group the first few work sessions
Its important to work together as a group for the first few work sessions. Set up meeting time slots where you all gather in a work space and discuss your project and/or work on your tasks. This establishes a connection and sets up communication between each member and the rest of the team. It also gives everyone an understanding of each person’s work style and everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Figure out what everyone’s strong suit is and assign the respective tasks
After a few rounds of doing work at the same time and place together, everyone’s strong suits start to become more clear. This would be a good time to divide future work and assign the appropriate tasks to everyone. After doing that, each member can proceed to work on their own, and meetings can just become for catching up with what the rest of the team is doing and how everything is fitting together.
- If you see a gap or need for a leader, fill it!
Sometimes in group projects, everything goes smoothly and everyone assumes just the right amount of responsibility. However, often you may notice a gap that only a project manager can fill. If you feel that gap existing (for example nobody is assuming tasks or nobody is posing any ideas), fill it. Begin outlining milestones and jobs, and what you believe the group should be working on during this meeting and future ones. Sometimes all a team needs is a person to push everyone to complete their tasks, and sometimes that person has to be you. Doing this is very rewarding because you emerge not just with the skills developed while doing project work, but also with a new leadership and management set of skills. You’d be surpised at how handy a project role like this can be when asked questions in a job interveiw. You can draw many anecdotes about your leadership skills from a project as such.
- Create a game plan with tight timelines
Make sure the group develops a tight knit game plan/time line for the duration of the project. Details like what will be achieved each week and by who, as well as when the group meetings and/or online check-ins will occur. This will help in the process of making sure everything is on track when tracking the project later, and will aid in providing a more systematic way to track progress on the work to be done.
- Speak to the less contributing members
Often in group projects there is one or more member that ends up doing less work (or none at all) throughout the project. My (and many people’s) usual reaction is to just accept it and divide the work among the other members. Although that usually still works out in the end, consider speaking to the person. Most of the time, a friendly conversation about their need to contribute more almost always ends up in the member feeling more responsibility and putting in more work. Putting that effort to speak to them, though may be uncomfortable, will save you a susbstaintial amount of exta work throughout the project. People tend to carry on with their habits until being (even slightly) confronted with them.
- Check in on everyone’s progress weekly, even if there is no meeting needed
Once you start decreasing the number of group meetings after separate work is assigned, make sure you still follow up with each other at least weekly through any form of online communication. This is beneficial to make sure everyone is on time for their objective timelines, to make sure nobody is stuck on a particular step, and finally to check if any task assignment reorganization is needed. This will help the team avoid unpleasant surprises about gaps in work done when approaching the submission deadline and the hastle and stress that always comes with that.
In the end, it is important to be able to asses how each project differs from the other. These differences come from the type of people in the group and the kind of project you’re working with. These factors determine how much of a leadership role you’ll have to take, and how often you’ll be meeting, along with many other parameters. However, once you form a type of communication within the team and understand everyone’s strengths and reasons for them, group projects become much easier to manage and navigate.
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