I know the feeling: The group project you were just assigned is weighing heavily on you, and it was just handed out today. It feels like the worst situation you could be squeezed into. I feel your pain!
But the uncomfortable reality is that group projects are actually supremely useful. They are a window into the world, showing you what it’s like to work with different types of people, especially those with whom you may disagree. The truth is that at some point in your life, you’re going to have to work with someone who you aren’t quite compatible with. And group projects will help you navigate the counters of that future relationship. The stress will pay off! Feeling a bit better now? Maybe not. In any case, below, I’ve outlined some tips to help you stay afloat on the shaky group project water raft.
1. Communicate regularly
A few years ago, I was part of a group project in which three of our members lacked Internet access. I didn’t realize how much I took online communication for granted until what happened later. Because there was a lack of communication and clear planning throughout the completion period, the final presentation was deeply messy and frustrating. Essentially, we had to decide who was saying what on stage right before the presentation began. Our PowerPoint slides were clumsily arranged and embarrassingly inconsistent. Our grades suffered massively.
Communication is imperative. When the group project completion period begins, it’s a good idea to create a Facebook or texting group chat or find another convenient platform to communicate on. Google docs is a miracle-worker. To stay organized, I’d recommend creating a Google docs folder, rather than just a document, and giving your group members the ability to edit all the pages and PowerPoint slides you create at the same time.
2. Divide and conquer
Before any work is accomplished, it’s worth figuring out who’s doing what. If member roles aren’t discussed, the group project government can either slide into dictatorship or anarchy. If nobody takes the lead, the group will lack focus and its members will be left confused and quietly drowning in the ocean. But if one person attempts to do all the work on his or her own, the rest of the group members will be left voiceless and equally uncomfortable. From my experience, it is best when nobody is doing everything, but everybody is doing something. Usually, this can be achieved by dividing tasks and assigning roles but still finding time to work together and help each other out along the way.
3. Consider internal deadlines
While too much strictness can breed anxiety, it can be useful to wrap up the project with your group mates before the official due date. Creating some internal, unofficial dates for certain aspects of the project to be finished by is an awesome way to stay organized and give yourself the room to go back and edit content should the need to do so arise. That said, before going ahead with this mission, it’s definitely worth asking your groupmates what they’re cool with. If internal deadlines aren’t popular amongst the team members, they may not be worth it. Essentially, you do you.
4. Do at least one practice run
I couldn’t stress this more: If your group project assignment includes a presentation component, meet up with your group members a day or so before the final performance for a rehearsal or test run. The difference will be massive. After doing the trial, the final product will appear as though you squeezed lemon juice over the presentation to make it far more shiny and visible. Your improved assignment grades will reflect it. The best groups I’ve been part of got together multiple times before the day-of to clean up and refine our parts and make the performance cohesive and polished.
On another note, it can be useful to be slightly “extra” when presenting. For example, if your business class presentation persona is a company consultant, dressing the part and wearing a blazer to school or handing out a business card at the start of your presentation may boost your grade. You can even make free business cards online. Doing something along those lines will make you appear sharp, dedicated, and well-prepared. Sure, you may come off as overly keen. But the bonus marks will make up for that.
5. Stay calm
When the planning phase of group projects is unfolding, it can be easy to feel trapped and get consumed by every minor setback. The group project completion period can feel like one of those time-reversing films where one scene plays over and over again dizzyingly in perpetuity. But trust me when I say this: Group projects will all end and disappear before you know it. Try not to get too stressed out. Adopting the “It’ll get done” mindset is a healthy way to stay atop your raft and, when necessary, swim your way through the murky waters. Trusting your group-mates will soothe you.
Now you’re well on your way to group project survival. The raft will be hard to navigate at times, and the currents will be high. But if you keep at least a few of the things above in mind, it should be watertight. There shouldn’t be leaks and holes throughout. In any case, you will make it out alive.