There's a reason that the entire classroom lets out a groan when they hear the words "group project." It's exhausting to organize different schedules, skill sets, and personality types—not to mention the issue of even workload distribution. What's a student to do? Here are 4 tips that will reintroduce productivity and accountability to your group projects.
1. Pick a king
Or queen, it's all the same to us. The point is to designate a leader who can be trusted to serve as the ultimate decision maker when your group is at an impasse. What if you don't know anyone in your group? A good bet is to select the person who acts like a natural leader; the kid who collected email addresses and suggested an initial meeting time might be perfect for the role. Be sure to clarify to the entire group that this person doesn't get to make decisions without others' input. Instead, the leader should serve as a calm, authoritative voice of reason when things get heated or when lethargy sets in. A good king will lead his group to victory without resorting to bossiness or condescension.
2. Agree on a purpose and put it in writing
Group meetings can quickly devolve into bickering sessions or worse, an excuse to while the time away with flirting and socialization. One way to derail arguments and idleness before they begin is to set a few main goals for your project and post them to a prominent place. That way, you can always point back to your main goals and ask, "Is this helping us accomplish Goal 1, 2, or 3?" When I worked on school projects, we'd always post our top 3 goals on our main Google Doc (which also housed our contact information). Collaborative online tools, like Prezi or Lucidchart, are best for storing this kind of info, so you don't have rely on a flaky teammate to remember his laptop or notebook.
3. Be a narc
Slackers will sap your energy, boil your blood, and ride your coattails all the way to an undeserved "A." Decide now that you won't put up with it. Here's a 3-step process of handling the problem (and trust me, it will be a problem if you don't nip it in the bud): 1) Privately discuss the issue with your professor and find out what your options are. Phrase your question like, "Hi Prof, I had a concern. If someone in our group isn't doing their fair share of work, how should we handle it?" Most professors will understand your worries and recommend that you come to them if you have any problems. 2) Clearly communicate to your group members that while it's nothing personal, you've been burned in the past and won't hesitate to report offending parties to the teacher. As a group, agree on some ground rules for tattling. 1, 2, or 3 strikes can be reasonable, depending on the length and breadth of the project. 3) Don't be afraid to follow through. When dealing with current or would-be slackers, just remember that most people have the ability to be competent—if not outstanding—colleagues. Enthusiasm and encouragement will improve morale and even eliminate the problem altogether.
4. Use technology to your advantage
Save time and energy by utilizing the latest technology. Here are a few ideas:
- Use Google Calendar to quickly coordinate schedules and set reminders
- Use the popular app IFTT to automatically save all of your project-related photos to Dropbox (or accomplish a whole host of other conditional tasks)
- Track your progress on a blog
- Save project details to a private wiki
- Share images through a Pinterest account
- Visually organize and communicate information with a Lucidchart online diagram
Technology exists to make our lives easier, so why not take full advantage of it? Try selecting a tool with useful features like real-time collaboration, a low learning curve, and cloud-based device independence. Familiarity with a flexible, well-known tool can increase your marketability and confidence, both in and out of school. Best of luck with your group project! If you have a great tip for improving group projects, please share it in the comments.