Group projects are very common in college, especially among certain majors (business, education, etc.). Many students have a feeling of dread once the professor announces that there will be an end-of-the-semester group project or (gasp!) semester-long group project. The minds of students are instantly filled with past memories of unproductive group members and all the hours spent in the library for late night meeting sessions. While working in groups can sometimes cause frustration, it's not all bad. You do get the opportunity to gain experience working with others, which you'll need later in the workforce. To help classroom group projects flow smoothly, check out these suggestions.
Get to know all group members. Most professors assign members to groups, so more than likely you won't know everyone in your group. Take the opportunity to introduce yourself and make everyone feel included in the group from the get-go. Be sure to exchange contact information (cell number, email address, etc.) with all members.
Set guidelines for group meetings early. During your first group meeting, work with all members to set guidelines for meeting attendance. Try to pick a scheduled time each week when everyone can attend a meeting in order to go over critical aspects of the project. Encourage everyone to be as flexible as possible. College is a busy time, so remember that there are alternatives to meeting face-to-face (i.e. conference calls, email, chat rooms, etc.).
Pick a group facilitator. When meeting in groups, it is very easy to get side-tracked. Picking a group facilitator can help alleviate this problem. Group facilitators make sure that the group stays on agenda during meetings and keeps everyone involved. The facilitator should be assertive but tactful and know how to intervene when the meeting is not moving toward its goal. If your group has to meet regularly throughout the semester, consider having several members act as facilitator on a rotating basis.
Divide up responsibilities. Figure out the strengths of everyone in the group in order to divide up responsibilities. Who is good at writing? Who doesn't mind public speaking? Is there someone in the group who is familiar with PowerPoint? You will still have to work together but dividing up responsibilities will help the project flow more smoothly and quickly.
Participate…but don't monopolize. Participation is one of the most important aspects of group work. Don't be the slacker of the group and let everyone else do the work for you. This will only cause resentment and hinder the group's success. On the other hand, you shouldn't monopolize the group either. Give everyone a chance to voice their ideas and concerns. If your group is having problems with a slacker or a monopolizer, speak up. If he still doesn't change his ways, let your instructor know what is happening.
Show respect. Always be respectful of other group members and remember that communication is the key to working together properly. If you find yourself in disagreement with another group member's viewpoints on the project, proceed cautiously when voicing your concerns. It's ok to disagree, but don't be rude.
Involve the professor as a last resort. Does this scenario sound familar? Most members of the team are pulling their own weight, but one person chronically misses deadlines or turns in subpar work. When your grade depends on someone else's contributions, it's completely reasonable for the team to tactfully confront the guilty party and voice concerns. Be sure to list specific examples of why the work isn't satisfactory and what steps need to be taken to correct the problem. If you have tried this approach and still aren't seeing improvement, it might be time to involve the professor. You will seem less of a tattletale if, as a group, you can outline the steps in which you have tried to resolve the problem. Your professor will also appreciate as much advanced notice as possible to suggest an alternate plan.
Working in groups can be a frustrating experience with coordinating meeting times, dividing up responsibilities, and dealing with unproductive group members. However, the communication and conflict resolution skills you gain from your college group projects will serve you well once you start your career.