Group work is like 2008 Justin Bieber—there’s no escaping it, it’s everywhere, and the thought of it gives most of us a headache.
Even if you’re not explicitly doing “group work” you’re going to have to deal with other people in some form of work environment. This can be tough to do. People often have different values, work habits and goals. Sometimes these elements meld together beautifully and other times they clash. When they work, it’s great. But when they clash, it can make it very difficult to achieve your goals.
It’s always easy to go to a professor and ask to move a difficult group member into another group. I’ve done this before. It works when you’re in school, but in a work environment you often have very little say in who you work with. Being able to adapt to working with difficult group members is an incredibly important skill. At the end of the day you have a job to do and it doesn’t matter who’s in your group, your employer is going to expect that job to get done. So, start working on these skills now.
Here are some tips that will hopefully help you adapt to, and deal with, difficult groups.
Oh, and also some Shrek Gifs…
Voice your opinions and voice your concerns. The hallmark of any good team, be it sports, academics, or super heroes is open communication and dialogue about issues that threaten your overall goal. This dialogue must be done respectfully and consistently. Insults will get you nowhere. You will only end up digging a deeper hole for yourself and burn bridges along the way. Good communication involves talking and listening.
Let everyone speak. Be open to what each person has to say. When you meet in person, take turns talking if you have to. This will help ensure that group members aren’t speaking over one another. Be consistent with this. Don’t leave difficult discussions to the last minute or ignore problems in fear of conflict. They will only get worse with time.
When you receive a piece of information from a group member such as an email or text: REPLY! Even if it’s just to acknowledge that you’ve received this information. The moment you stop communicating you open yourselves up to confusion, which in turn leads to fighting, finger pointing and frustration. Bad groups are not made up of bad individuals, but rather individuals who are poor communicators.
There are plenty of really great sites that are designed to help with group communication. A personal favorite is Slack. It allows you to separate the chat into different groups, share files, create private and public channels and connect to a variety of helpful apps. It’s great for large projects with lots of moving parts.
Avoid Facebook Messenger if you can. It opens itself up to too many distractions. One second you’re talking to your group, the next you’re watching a video of a bat eating a watermelon. (This is as adorable as it sounds btw)
2. Never Assume Anything
People will surprise you. It’s true that certain classmates will develop a “negative reputation” when it comes to group work. Most of us have had that moment where we see our group list and immediately think that the project is doomed. The biggest issue with this is that it usually leads to you giving up before the project’s even started. If you have an undesirable group member, give them a chance. Unless you’ve worked with someone before you really can’t judge what they will be like. If you have worked with them before, then address some of the issues that you had last time. I will dive deeper into this later on in the article.
3. Group Members Are Like Onions
Everyone has their own unique skills. You have to be willing to peel back the layers to find these sometimes, but they’re there. Start off any project with an introductory meeting to get to know one another. This sounds cheesy, but icebreakers like this can go a long way in getting to know one another and building expectations.
Be straight up and ask, what are everyone’s strengths, weaknesses and goals for this project? Use this information to dictate roles within the group. For example: If someone is great at organization, have them control the scheduling, meeting minutes and group chats. Be honest about your abilities. Everyone is good at something. Take advantage of these strengths and acknowledge the weaknesses. If you aren’t the strongest writer and you have to do a writing component for the project, let people know so that you can work out a solution. Maybe you can arrange to get your written part finished first. This way, other members of your group will have time to proofread it and give you feedback.
If you never acknowledge these weaknesses, they will simply turn into issues. The most common issue that often goes unaddressed is time management. So let’s address it right now. When group members just aren’t getting things in on time and you’re all like:
This is probably one of biggest fears when it comes to group work. Students are often concerned that other members won’t do their part. As a result, they will be left to do the work all on their own or things will be left to the last minute. This is a valid concern.
If you know that you’re the type of person who’s bad with time management, tell your group. There’s no shame in this. As I said before, it’s important to know where your strengths and weaknesses lie that way you can all work together to accommodate the weaknesses and benefit from the strengths. If you have a group member who’s not very strong in this area, speak to them about ways you can help.
Often times, the best solution to this problem is to give them a stricter schedule with more regular check ins. This may be more work for you, but it will help to keep that group member on track and, in the end, greatly reduce stress.
Sometimes time management is affected by unexpected factors such as illness or a family emergency. If something like this comes up, notify your group members right away. You don’t have to go into detail, you’re entitled to your privacy, but if you don’t tell them that something is wrong it will only lead to confusion and frustration.
If you’re open and honest about the amount of work you can get done and how quickly you can do it, then you can all work together to accommodate these issues. Don’t take advantage of this. Being honest about your flaws is not an excuse to pawn off work onto your other group members. It’s simply a means of addressing potential issues and figuring out ways that each person can work to avoid them.
4. Avoid Trash Talking
While it’s important to share your feelings, you have to make sure that you’re doing it in a civil manner. Insults and gossip are tempting, but they do very little to resolve issues and often end up worsening the dynamics between team members. Be professional. Instead of complaining, make an active effort to contribute ideas for solutions. If all else fails, then you can approach a supperior, be it a teacher or boss. Always try to resolve issues internally first. Lift each other up! compliment people when they do good work.
Compliments go a long way. Encourage each other by praising good work. This can be as simple as saying thank you, good job, acknowledging their work in front of their peers, or giving them a sticker. These are small actions that make group work more enjoyable and more rewarding. Remember that you’re all on the same side. You want your other group members to succeed.
Hopefully, this article will help you go from this:
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.