I’ve heard Group Project horror stories that make our Freaky Friday series sound like excerpts from a Curious George book. Maybe I am exaggerating a little bit (maybe…), but being assigned to a group project with a set of students you have never met can be scary. What if everyone has different work ethics? What if a group member doesn’t pull his or her weight? The list of possible road blocks can be endless, but so can the list of possible success stories. Group projects are meant to teach us how to complete a task using our fellow workers’ strengths….and weaknesses. Believe it or not, they are often incredibly useful learning experiences that can be carried over into the real world. With the second half of the semester picking up, we thought we’d bring you three common issues we came across and how to work through them!
Problem 1: “One of our group members thinks this is a dictatorship.” Ever had one group member immediately deem himself (or herself) the leader of the group, and then hand out assignments and deadlines not long after? Before you know it, it feels as though you have a second professor – except this one seems to be lurking around every corner, ready to give out orders without warning.
Solution: Revive the “group” aspect of the project. While it can be nice to have a member add some structure to a possibly overwhelming assignment, don’t let yourself be intimidated by someone who is simply being bossy. Politely suggest that all decisions should be made as a group in order to ensure a certain level of fairness. If members disagree on a certain aspect of the assignment, put it to a vote. Also, if possible, consider channeling this member’s strengths into the area they would be most useful. Does a certain task require above-average organization skills? Ask if he or she would like to take that on.
Problem 2: “Our group gets along really well so we don’t get any work done.”
At times, certain group meetings can begin to feel more like hanging out with friends than an academic brainstorming session. This kind of group usually works well…until the final project deadline sneaks up.
Solution: Assign tasks to complete before each meeting. There is nothing wrong with having fun with your group, as long as you complete the work. Break down the assignment and see what can be completed independently for the next meeting. Use each meet-up as an opportunity to make corrections, pool your ideas, and make the project flow – not as the chance to complete everything in one sitting. If everything has to be completed as a group, set goals for each meeting and don’t leave until they are finished.
Problem 3: “Group Member #3 hasn’t contributed anything…and hasn’t shown up to class in a month.” We’ve all had experience with this mysteriously elusive group member and the rest of the group is forced to pick up the slack.
Solution: Do your best to include him/her in the assignment…and then move on. It’s important to reach out to this particular group member and let him or her know what is going to be expected of all group members. It also might be beneficial to discuss which aspects of the projects seem interesting to each member and divide accordingly. If he or she still fails to contribute, consider talking to your professor. Rather than throw the person under the bus, explain the situation and ask if there is a particular way in which your professor would like you to handle it (some professors have different policies). If there is nothing you can do, pick up the slack and chalk it up to a learning experience…you’ll have gained much more by the end of the semester. Lastly, many group projects culminate with a Peer Performance Review so don’t hesitate to be honest. Professors often appreciate the insight (and are more aware than you think).
You’re ready to tackle the next big group assignment that comes your way! Having an open mind and our helpful guide will help you navigate whatever class throws at you. Don’t hesitate to share any of your own insight…we love hearing feedback!