Managing the Dreaded Group Projects
*Turns out that every time I save something into the ‘draft’ section it automatically gets published at some point, regardless if I’ve finished editing or not, so sorry if you’ve already seen part of this!
Students love it when they hear the words “group” + “projects / assignment / work” together. You can almost feel that feeling of dread in the air.
However, you do learn a lot from them in comparison to the usual group work at school where they make you create posters and do presentations together. A lot of group work at uni (for me anyway) revolve around a project, so it can span over a month or even 6 months! As they are big projects, they are definitely tasks that you can’t undertake yourself. This really challenges you to develop strategies to deal with the social and practical issues which may arise when it comes to group work.
See the following posts on the Careers Blog for more on the benefits of group work:
However, we all know that managing a group work and ensuring that everyone is happy and maintains participation is a task in itself! Here are some pointers you may want to think about. I know that some of these seem really trivial, but understanding is different to doing, so consider whether you’re engaging in them effectively enough.
This is a psychological phenomenon which suggests that when completing group tasks, individuals are less likely to exert as much effort as they were to if they were doing the task by themselves.
Solution: divide the task(s) up equally so that each individual is held accountable.
However, an issue with this is that some people work best when they do their work at the very last minute, and others prefer to have it done in advanced. This can be frustrating when you are stuck the night before the deadline trying to fit everything together and making sure that it makes coherent sense. Please be cautious that the final deadline is for the whole assignment or project and the individual submitting it all needs to have time to put everything together and check it through before submission!
To help with this problem you can suggest…
Setting MINI MILESTONES.
It will not only help everyone in your group to manage their work better, but it will also help you to easily track the progress that you are making rather than rushing to do this a couple of days before the deadline(s). Any inconsistencies or missing information can be spotted and fixed within good time. Breaking it down into more manageable parts rather than looking at it holistically probably helps to reduce the stress for everyone.
LACK of MOTIVATION.
A problem with group projects or assignments is finding a specific area of focus which everyone in your group is happy with and it’s fair to say that this is just a struggle. However, it’s important to note the interests of your group members and try to integrate them with your interests.
A benefit of university work (especially in Psychology) is that you are not bound to a specification of content and can tailor it in a way that suits you. For example, last term I was in a group where a few members were interested in clinical, and then a few others in social, and I was interested in developmental and language related areas. The conflict here is that I prefer to steer away from clinical psychology and I’m not a fan of doing social psychology related research projects, whereas everyone else in my group was not keen on anything developmental or language related! However, we still managed to make it work by choosing to do a project which focused on parenting behaviours and wellbeing outcomes. We didn’t do that in the end (and I can’t be telling everyone what our project is just yet), but you get the point.
The privilege to work is a gift. The power to work is a blessing. The love of work is a success.
– David O. McKay.
The more intrinsically motivated someone is in the work they are doing the less it will seem like work and the more likely they are to be motivated to not only simply complete the task but provide some valuable contributions.
Assign a GROUP LEADER.
This is an effective practise to get into and it will all help with the preceding points mentioned. Things tend to get messy when there’s no one over seeing everything that is happening. No one knows what they’re doing, no one communicates with each other, deadlines are non-existent until a week before the due date; the work doesn’t get done to an adequate standard. Someone needs to put a structure in place. Sometimes you are going to have to be the one to implement this whether you (or your group members) like it or not. However, you will thank yourself for it afterwards. Remember, it’s about gently leading, not telling everyone what to do, so give people the freedom to make their own decisions.
LISTEN to Others.
I find that one of the main reasons for people not speaking up is because they feel dominated or repeatedly ignored by others. Be open in allowing others the chance to have their perspectives voiced. If there is one person dominating, maybe give a gentle reminder that it’s a group activity so everyone needs to play a role. This will increase the chances of cohesive participation within the task.
TIMETABLING and RECORDING MEETINGS and ACTION POINTS.
Pretty obvious but use a google spread sheet so that you can visually see when everyone is free in advance of meetings. That being said, it doesn’t always work. I once had to end up writing a message onto the group chat saying, “I’m going to see [name of academic] sometime next week for feedback. If you want to come, let me know and we can arrange a time that suits” because some people were not replying to my messages about meeting arrangements (please reply to your messages!). I didn’t want to do it that way and it makes you feel awful, but you have to do what you have to do. If that means being assertive, then be it.
For my 2 Year Research Project we have to keep a record of: all our attendance to meetings with our supervisor and group members, the things we discussed such as our progress and action points, and raw data collection with times, dates, researchers present and so on. It’s such a great way to keep track of your progress and any issues that arise and need to be addressed. This way, you also have a documentation of the whole process, so when It comes to doing peer-reviews (if you have to), you know exactly who has been involved in what.
However, it’s also important to remember to…
SUPPORT Your Group Members.
Make sure that they are aware that they can come to at least one of you if for any reason they are struggling to get the work done. Firstly, group members should feel comfortable in asking you for help if they don’t understand what they are supposed to do. Secondly, we need to remember that people have personal circumstances out of their control, and they should be able to let you know if they can’t make a meeting or deadline without being judged or forced to give full reasoning for their non-attendance/ submission. If it begins to have a substantial impact on your work, make someone aware of what’s happening so that provisions for your group and the individual can be put in place if need be.
ASK for ADVICE!
If you are stuck in a bit of a sticky situation and you don’t know what to do or you have run out of strategies to deal with it, just ask for some advice from someone like the module leader, or another academic you know better, or your personal tutor. They are all familiar with group work dilemmas and will have completed (and probably still are completing) a lot of group work so they may have some strategies which you hadn’t of thought about. Of course, there’s also your supervisor but a lot of students would probably rather talk to someone who is unaware of who your group members are.
I hope some of this is helpful! Best of luck with your group work!