Group work 101: The highs, the lows, and the no-gos

Group work can be a double-edged sword.

Working in a team is invaluable preparation for the collaborative workplace. An estimated 80% of all employees work in group settings. Furthermore, according to the results of a 2014 study of 168 undergraduate students, students with greater exposure to collaborative learning environments have higher problem solving and reasoning abilities than their comparatively independent counterparts.

However, for many students, the prospect of a joint assignment evokes fears of clashing personalities, unfair workloads, and the inability to coordinate schedules.

Given that group projects are inevitable, consider adopting a mental “toolkit” of strategies to succeed in collaborative settings. Treat each team project as an opportunity to sharpen the tools that will ultimately help you thrive beyond school and into the workplace.

Resist the urge to take control

Although independent work calls for a high degree of self-direction, exerting a similar level of control over one’s peers can breed hostility among group members. Try for a balance between providing leadership and embracing others’ perspectives.

Identify each team member’s skills

Within a newly formed team of students lies an array of skills, experiences, and untapped potential. Some students are innately artistic, while others may excel in solving logic puzzles or constructing oral arguments.

When embarking on a new group project, discuss each group member’s strengths and preferences. Then allot tasks accordingly. Encouraging team members to play to their strengths will motivate the group, and, in turn, help achieve a product that reflects the best efforts of each person.

Embrace compromise

Regardless of the degree of planning, group work can entail clashing schedules, people getting ill and other unforeseen challenges. When facing the unexpected, explore creative solutions with your team. Learning resourcefulness in the academic setting paves the path to overcoming challenges in the workplace.

Take advantage of virtual communication technology

Scheduling face-to-face meetings among multiple students is difficult, and for online students who may be scattered at long distances it is not even possible. A plethora of online communication/collaboration tools, including Google Docs, Skype, OneDrive, Slack and free online phone call applications provide students with endless virtual communication channels. Once your group has established its preferred communication channels, be sure to share the status of your assigned tasks with other members and encourage them to do the same.

By Maha Ansari

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