How to navigate group projects
Let’s face it: being assigned group projects is something many of us dread.
You’re in groups with unknown people and coordinating meetings and allocating work can be an administrative nightmare.
This reality isn’t confined to the borders of UBC, so learning how to handle group projects will put you in amazing shape for the real work world.
Over my five years at UBC, I’ve had many group projects and I’ve also worked in a collaborative office environment in a few different positions. Throughout it all, I’ve discovered some strategies that work better than others to make the work manageable.
6 tips to help you tackle any group project
1. Get your group's contact info right away
As soon as you know who’s in your group, meet quickly after class to get their contact details. Nothing is worse than spending a week trying to get everyone’s info. (There’s also more than just Facebook - I once used WeChat as a communication platform.)
2. Book a meeting room
Walking around Irving for 30 minutes trying to find a table will waste already precious group time. Book a room in advance and set a mandatory time for people to show up to plan the project.
3. Set realistic deadlines and include buffer time
This isn’t the only class your groups members have, so get a sense of how busy everyone is around the due date of the project. If someone has three midterms the same day, maybe ask them to contribute their part the week prior.
A good rule is for your group to aim to complete the project two days before the actual deadline. This alleviates the stress of a panicked all-nighter and gives the group a bit of time to fill in any gaps that may come up (and trust me, they will).
4. Don’t cancel on meetings
I get it—everyone is busy and things come up, but this is the most annoying part of any group project. Your schedule is not more important than anyone else’s.
In the real world you won’t be able to cancel on collaborative work meetings 30 minutes before, so practice keeping your word and show up when you say you will.
5. Stay positive and do the work you’re assigned
It can be easy to groan about group projects, but they are a cool opportunity to have different perspectives on a subject. Take the part you’re given and work on it like it’s going to be graded right away. Don’t contribute a half-finished piece that others have to fix.
6. Understand different roles and personalities (including your own)
Everyone has different strengths (and weaknesses), and it’s natural for people within a group to gravitate towards the role that they’re most comfortable with.
In my experience, most of us are the worker bees of group projects who steadily get the job done. When it comes to group dynamics, however, there are other roles and personalities you may come across. Below are a few of the key ones and how to work most effectively with each.
This person will take control of the project and be the most vocal in meetings. They will likely contribute heavily to the project and assign the work to each person.
How to handle it: Don’t take advantage of this person’s dedication and slack off. Everyone should be equally involved in contributing to the project. However this person will be useful in defining the direction, so let them lead the group—because they’ll get the job done.
If this is you: Make sure you listen to the ideas of others. You can facilitate group meetings, but it's important to get the perspectives of your team members instead of just taking control. Use your leadership skill to your advantage to make sure people do their part, but don’t overwork yourself because you don’t trust people to deliver.
This person will try and set a schedule for everyone and will likely follow up on the status of all work.
How to handle it: Be open about your schedule and responsibility around the due date of the project. Don’t ignore this person when they’re requesting info. However if they start to follow up before a deadline, you can politely reply that you’re working on your part and you’ll notify them when it’s complete.
If this is you: Your organization skills will serve you well in many contexts and keep the project on track. Make sure you listen to your group members and set a schedule that works for everyone, not just yourself.
This person will promise an amazing hand-made paper mache model or their connection to a top music producer. However it will soon become apparent that they can’t quite deliver on what they said they would.
How to handle it: Make sure your group has periodic check-ins where people can share their work in progress. You don’t want to distrust people but it’s not impolite to ask for evidence to make sure things are on track.
If this is you: Know your skill set and offer accordingly. Don’t promise something you can’t deliver. This is not fair to your group members, so make sure you actually pull through on what you say you will.
The Silent Contributor:
This person will sit quietly in group meetings and often may not offer their help but will accept the work that’s assigned to them.
How to handle it: Shyness doesn’t mean they don’t have ideas—sometimes people are simply uncomfortable with speaking out. Ask this person directly if they have any opinions or ideas. Don’t ask “yes” or “no” questions, but ask in a positive manner that would encourage a response.
If this is you: Silence is not a bad characteristic, but it does have drawbacks if you want your opinion heard. Know that your ideas matter and share them—even if it’s in a group message, or if you talk to one other member.
Unfortunately having a person on the team who won’t answer messages or show up to meetings is going to be a reality in some of your group projects. There may be a legitimate reason for someone to act like this, but I’m referencing the individual who just doesn’t care.
How to handle it: Gauge the level of contribution they’re giving to the project. Set a mini deadline and see if they respond to it. If after reaching out multiple times and getting nothing back, you can decide to talk to your prof and let them know that this individual is not contributing to the workload. You’ll likely have to ask someone else in your group to take on their part of the project.
If this is you: Please. Don’t. Be. This. Person. It’s not going to work in the real world. Take responsibility for your part. If there’s a reason why you can’t contribute to the project, talk to your team or prof and let them know the situation—communication is way better than silence.
You’ve got this
Group work can be a challenge, but it’s nothing that you can’t handle. If you find people are jeopardizing the project, contact the professor and let them know the situation. This can be hard to do sometimes, but remember that at the end of the day, it’s your grade.
Follow the above tips and you’ll be ready for all collaborative projects—now and in the future.