A group project is an ideal opportunity to sharpen your problem-solving and team-building techniques, which are important skills you’ll need throughout your career. In a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 82 percent of employers said that the ability to work well with a team was one of the most highly-valued qualities in an employee.
While group work is an important part of your learning experience and professional development in college, it can sometimes be a source of stress and anxiety. Working in a team isn’t always easy, especially when those in your group have different schedules or working styles than your own.
But don't get discouraged! With the right approach, you can set your group up for success and take away valuable lessons for your career.
Follow these five steps for an effective and productive group project:
1. Have a kickoff meeting
The first meeting is an opportunity to get to know your fellow team members, brainstorm ideas and create a plan for the project. For example:
- Does your group want to appoint a group leader?
- How often will the group meet?
- Will you work independently for some parts of the project, or will all tasks be a group effort?
It’s important to set these expectations up front so that you are all on the same page before getting to work. As you discuss each of these questions, be sure to find solutions that work well for everyone.
You'll want to create an open dialogue around important decisions so every team member feels comfortable voicing ideas or concerns. Be open to others’ suggestions and come to an agreement together.
2. Establish deadlines and responsibilities
After you’ve introduced yourselves and discussed project parameters, determine responsibilities for each member of your group. Make sure that each member has an important role in each phase of the project, from research to writing to the final presentation. Let your team members volunteer for the parts of the assignment that they find most interesting. This way, they will be more engaged in the project and likely more productive as a result.
Next, figure out deadlines for each phase of the project. Work backward from the final due date to set timelines for each task. For example, you will need to complete the research component of the assignment at least a few weeks prior to the final due date.
3. Schedule regular meetups
These meetings could be virtual, via a video conferencing app, or in-person, depending on what works best for your group. Have an agenda, or a list of items to discuss, for each meeting. This helps your team stay focused and ensures that no one is left out of the loop of communication. This is also a good time to check in on project status and see if you’re on track to meet the deadlines you set in the initial meeting.
There are also a variety of tools you can use to collaborate with your group outside of these meetings. Google Docs and Google Slides are free, online, cloud-based applications that allow you to share documents and presentations with your group via a custom link. These tools make it easy for your group to work together in real time, even if you aren’t able to be in the same room.
4. Be a team player
You must keep in mind that this is a group project and an effort on behalf of everyone, not just you. That means everyone should have an important role to play and an effort should be made to make sure all members are working together.
That’s why it’s important to establish clear lines of communication, determine responsibilities and set expectations at the beginning of the project. If you find that members of your group aren’t abiding by the guidelines you’ve agreed upon, it’s OK to let them know. Which brings us to our final point…
5. Hold everyone accountable
Perhaps one of the more difficult aspects of working with a team is the possibility of a confrontation, especially when people aren’t pulling their weight or there are disagreements about how to approach the project.
Try to find a balance between being kind and being firm when issues come up. Coming off too harsh will do absolutely nothing but harm your group’s motivation, but being too easy won’t help the project stay on schedule. Holding others accountable is a very important part of working as a team, so don’t be afraid to ask for help or call attention to a problem. Sometimes, it’s the only way to get the work done right, and that’s what you’re all there to do.
A study by Google researchers found that trust and communication were the most important factors to a team’s success. By following these steps, you can learn how to create a productive team environment and positive project outcomes. While disagreements might occur, being honest, upfront and respectful in your communication with other team members will help you be successful in resolving any issues. Good luck!