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Group projects: Working effectively as a team

 

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Benefits and pitfalls of group projects

Instructors often assign group projects because of their many benefits to students’ learning and personal growth. Most practically, group projects help students gain skills to prepare them for team-based employment, which is now the norm. In addition, research shows that students learn more and produce superior products by working with diverse perspectives. Nonetheless, many students dislike group projects due to common pitfalls such as unequal distribution of work and interpersonal conflict.

Strategies

To help your team work well together, and for a positive group project experience, try these strategies.

Start early

Nothing ramps up tensions in a group as much as time pressure! Schedule a first meeting soon after you receive the project guidelines.

Hold "live" meetings

This promotes group cohesiveness and may help prevent misunderstandings that may occur when communicating solely by text. 

Having a real conversation facilitates a richer discussion of the project and an enhanced final product.  It facilitates feedback and decision-making and is more efficient than having to send multiple messages to resolve a single issue. 

At the first meeting

Work towards a common vision

Make sure that everyone understands the assignment objectives and outcomes, and work towards a common vision for the final product.

Assign tasks and roles

Assign tasks and roles, leveraging each group member’s strengths –- e.g.: A facilitator to organize meetings; a recorder to take and post minutes from the meetings; a leader to periodically check in and make sure everyone is on the same page and fulfilling their responsibilities. 

The table at the bottom of this page may be useful for keeping track of everybody’s responsibilities.

Work backwards from the due date

Record the assignment due date on an online calendar and work backwards, breaking down the assignment into manageable chunks with mini-deadlines recorded on the calendar. 

Share the calendar with all group members. 

Assign a timekeeper to check periodically that the group is on track with this plan and to update members on next actions.

Establish some ground rules to avoid conflict later

Cover matters such as the frequency of meetings and check-ins; preparation required for meetings; how to assure that work is allocated equally and that everyone participates; what to do if you are behind on your tasks; how to give feedback on others’ work; how any conflict will be resolved; and how decisions will be made. 

Revisit your ground rules later to make sure that they still work for your group.

Submit a final project that is consistent throughout

Revise the project to ensure that everyone’s parts are consistent in content, writing style, and format. 

Add language to connect concepts to make sure that the project is cohesive and that it flows well. 

Remember you are submitting a group project, not a number of individual projects.

Manage conflict

Address any conflicts as soon as they arise; don’t let resentment build. 

Listen and maintain an attitude of compromise. 

Paraphrase what others say to show that you’re listening. 

Work together to brainstorm solutions that best serve the goals of the group.

Learn from your group experience

Meet once after submitting the project to review:

  • What went well in your work as a group?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • How well did the group meet the assignment objectives?
  • What lessons have we learned about the group process?

Keep a record of what you learned to help you build your group-work skills for an even more positive group project experience next time!

Table for tracking responsibilities

Use this table to keep track of who is responsible for which aspects of the group project:

 

Name: Name: Name:
Responsible for: Responsible for: Responsible for:
     
     
     
     
     
Name: Name: Name:
Responsible for: Responsible for: Responsible for: