“When I die, I want my group project members to lower me into my grave so they can let me down one last time.”
The joke above, while morbidly humorous, is reflective of the view many students have of class teamwork and group projects. The stress of collaboration manifests itself in communication problems, procrastination, and growing tensions and antagonism as group members pit themselves against each other, pointing fingers or else silently snarking at those who refuse to pull their weight. Learning to cooperate as a team is a valuable skill but for most people, it is a difficult one to master but it is possible to make the most out of a widely dreaded situation.
Divide and conquer
Should you find yourself the (un)lucky leader of your motley crew, be a considerate and resourceful one by assigning tasks in accordance with the strengths of your teammates. Step back and let them choose their own roles unless you believe they may be suited for another, better one. Only choose another person’s role for them if they are indecisive, indifferent, or if a small group demands that its few members take up multiple tasks. If you are not the leader, make your voice heard and choose the role that suits you best — a satisfied group is usually a well-functioning one.
Talk that talk
One of the main problems many groups struggle to overcome is the difficulty of maintaining consistent and direct communication. The failure to communicate is devastating because more often than not, it leads to confusion as teammates fall out of sync, irritability as decisions are made without collective consent, and additional stress if unaddressed complications arise. Most groups will create a shared document (often via Google Docs) but team interactions can be taken one step further by creating a shared group on social media, group chats, and better still, taking the initiative to hold meetings outside of the classroom. In addition to holding your team together, there is plenty of pride to be taken in being responsible, especially when other groups flounder.
Late for the date
While the final deadline is of the utmost importance, setting due dates for your individual tasks the same way you would develop a to-do list lends orderliness to the normally chaotic nature of group projects and creates extra time to spare for revisions and emergencies that may arise unexpectedly. Propose the concept of individual deadlines to your group, make compromises as necessary, and request that they do their best to adhere to them. Even if they don’t, set an example by committing to yours. Not only will you avoid the frantic scramble to put your project together at the last minute but you may establish a reputation for yourself as a punctual, reliable, and consequently valuable member within your group.
Dishing it out
It is very possible that you may wind up with one, two, or in an unfortunate situation, a handful of less-than-desirable teammates. This cast of characters can sometimes be broken down into the freeloader (the one who does little to nothing in playing their part), the commander (the one who attempts to control the project by doing everything), the MIA (the uncontactable group member), and the doormat (the one who has no opinion on any group decision) to name a few. In certain circumstances, you may need to cajole or hound your irresponsible teammate into action, an endeavour that can easily give way to frustration and passive-aggressiveness that only worsens the group dynamic. Although it’s tempting to voice your displeasure, do so in a contained way and remain civil before cracking down on them. Talk to your fellow group members politely, make your expectations clear, listen to their reasons for their absence or lack of participation and maybe — just maybe — they’ll be compelled to listen to you too.