How to Manage Group Projects?


For better or for worse, group projects are all the rage in education. They were designed to promote sharing of ideas and cooperative learning.

But back to the real world.

We all know what happens when the teacher assigns a group project. Either you manage to sign up to work with your friends, or you get assigned to work with some random people and hope they don't slack off on you. And then you have to deal with dividing up the work. In some ways the dividing goes easier when the group members all know each other, but even then, some people try and take advantage of their less lazy classmates. And when you're working with people you hardly know... well, anything can happen. So how do you manage the project so that whomever your group members are, everyone does an equal amount of work and everyone's ideas get heard?

Well, your first option is to move to Utopia. But Utopia University is unbelievably selective, so you might as well learn some useful techniques for managing group work. The first and most important is dividing work. You definitely need to learn how to do this, and without seeming too bossy. Which, I'll admit, is no easy task. But possible nonetheless. First of all, phrase absolutely everything as a suggestion. "How do people feel about" is a great phrase to master. Then you can suggest action plans for the group without seeming like you think you're in charge. The first plan to suggest is a meeting where everyone takes on specific tasks. Such a meeting will start everyone off on the right foot.

And at the meeting, you must make sure that everyone takes on equal responsibility. If someone seems to be holding back, encourage them to pick a task. If the person is someone that you know, you can always try flattery. "You're so good at flirting with the librarian; why don't you do the interlibrary loan requests?"

If you have a lazy group member that you don't happen to know personally, ask him what he likes to do. And if this is the avenue you have to take, ask him before you mention any specific tasks. That way, he can't say he's good at something that has nothing to do with your project, or claim illiteracy when you are dividing the research. Pounce on one of his talents. Say that his football skills will make him the perfect candidate for field interviews. (I don't know, make up some sort of reasoning.) Then, when everyone is assigned, suggest regular meetings to "check in." This will minimize the likelihood of over-procrastinating. This type of plan will also allow the group to be in touch during the course of the project. This way, you can communicate about various developments and changes over the course of the project. You hardly want the person doing research to find not enough on Leprosy and decide to research Ebola instead, without informing the props master who has already constructed plaster sores for the re-enactment committee. With regular meetings, everyone can keep an eye on each other as well, making sure that everyone is doing the work that he or she promised to do. Then by the due date, you will have a complete and cohesive group project. Believe it.

Of course, the possibility does exist that you will have another bossy person that isn't as savvy about pretending she's not. Managing this person is the other end of dealing with group work. This technique requires the cooperation of the rest of the group. Make sure they have the confidence to speak up when they disagree with Captain Bossy, but teach them how to sound like they are not disagreeing. Tell the bossy one that she has a good idea, but that you have an alternate plan. Get the group to back you on this one. If everyone agrees with someone who's not her, she will have to submit or be seen as the... you know.

Careful diplomacy and assertiveness are the keys to any successful group project. Learn to manage the lazy ones and the bossy ones and you will not only have an "A" project, but an assemblage of grateful group members.

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