Group Work: Tips on Working with Other Students

Whether it’s just one partner or a group of 10 students, working on a group project (or group activity) will be an inevitable experience during your college career; and for good reason. The skills you acquire working with others are invaluable and are certainly going to be of use later in your life. While working in groups can come with various challenges, and at times you may wonder why professors assign group projects in the first place, it’s important to remember that this is supposed to be a little hard.  And surprisingly the lessons learned from working with others can often be just as valuable as the material or subject matter you’ve learned doing the project. However, if you find yourself struggling with a group project, here are some tips that may help:

If you get to choose your partners. This may not always be the case, but sometimes professors will leave it up to the students to decide who will work together. It’s tempting in this situation to turn to your best friend in the class. But keep in mind: if issues come up during the project, it may be more difficult to be frank with someone you’re close to. You might try to find partners who, as much as you can tell, share the same commitment to classwork as you do. If you are more focused and intense, look for partners who are similarly focused. If you are more “laid back” in your approach, see whether you can find partners who are like-minded.

What to do at the first meeting. The first time your group meets, there are important decisions to be made. The first thing to do is designate roles, deciding who will do what, and then figure out the best mode of communication (email, text, etc.) and how often you will check in with each other between meetings. Once this is done, set a date and time for your next meeting, and set specific expectations of what each member should have done by then. Try to pick a deadline to finish the project at least a few days before it is due. This will create a buffer to accommodate for any unforeseen delays or give your group one last chance to meet and tie up any loose ends.

You want more from your group members. If a group member is slacking on his/her portion of the work, try to get them more involved by asking them specific questions about the project or giving them specific tasks. When the group meets, you can encourage their participation by asking for input from all of the group members about what needs to be done so that it does not become a personal conflict. If their lack of involvement becomes too large of an issue to ignore, you can ask your professor for advice, but be wary of using names, as this may create more problems for the student than you intended.

Your group members want more from you. If you become worried that your group members are disappointed with the amount you’ve contributed, take steps to increase your involvement. Communication is key, so emailing them with a specific question or asking them how you can help would be a great start. If you are getting the sense that your contribution might be lacking, don’t wait until the last minute (i.e. the week that the assignment is due) to try to fix the situation.

Not all group projects are created equal. You might work in groups that you really enjoy where everyone contributes appropriately and you make friends you wouldn’t have otherwise. When working in a group is more challenging, remember some of the tips described above. The most important things to remember are the importance of communication, planning, flexibility and cooperation. Easy or hard, collaborating and working together with other students will teach you a lot about working in teams – a skill almost everyone needs throughout college and beyond.

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