How to Survive a Group Project

Professors value collaboration, which is fair enough; real-world jobs need people who can work together without letting their egos get in the way. Unfortunately, professors have this strange obsession with testing their students’ social skills through one of the most despised of all collegiate activities: the group project.
The idea is wonderful in theory; students apply in-class knowledge through a team effort, working together to create something that exhibits their critical thinking skills. In reality, group projects are disastrous. Often assigned toward the end of the semester, they require immense out-of-class time, which means trying to find random half hours in which all three-plus members of the team can meet. They’re incredibly work-intensive, and almost inevitably, one of the team members will end up doing most of the work, while another does absolutely nothing.
Unfortunately, these dreaded assignments tend to have enormous grade-point weight. Here are some tips that will help you not only survive, but excel at group projects.
First off, delegate responsibility immediately. Every group has an automatic leader, usually the student who participates the most and actually keeps up with assignments. If that person is you, evaluate your group: consider everyone’s strengths and use them to your advantage. If one of your team members is generally unreliable but great in front of a crowd, have him in charge of the actual presentation. If you have a student in your group who rarely speaks, give her a writing-intensive or research-based role. If you aren’t the group leader, be as supportive as possible. Make sure that no single person ends up with all the responsibility, even if it means doing a bit more of it yourself.
Make a schedule as soon as possible. Determine a timetable for how you’re going to tackle the project; create hard deadlines and decide on exactly how many times you should meet. Have everyone in the group write down his or her class and extracurricular schedule, then determine which times are generally the most free for everyone. Set aside a few extra evenings in case you end up needing more time, as well.
Once you have a schedule, communicate regularly. Make sure everyone has each other’s cell number and email address, and don’t hesitate to send out reminder messages about meetings and deadlines. It’s also wise to have someone in the group take minutes of each meeting so you have a record of your progress. During the meetings, stay focused; chance are, you have a very limited time frame in which all of you are free, so make the most of that half hour together. That may mean working in the library instead of the coffee shop, but if it keeps you on track, go for it.
If you find that the work becomes uneven—that is, if one of the group members isn’t pulling her weight—talk about it early on. Address the group’s issues with her sooner rather than later so it doesn’t become confrontational. Don’t bring your professor in on the problem unless it’s absolutely necessary; as unfair as it seems, the point of the project is to demonstrate your collaborative skills, so solving issues independently is vital.
If things do get out of your control, keep your professor filled in as much as possible before the project is due. When you show up to the presentation with something of an underwhelming product, your professor will have an idea of why. When the endeavor is finally complete, request filling out an evaluation sheet. Most professors provide self and group evaluations anyway, but ask just in case. Be as honest as possible with the evaluation; if you need to, talk to your professor one-on-one about how the project went. Bottom line: your grade depends on how the group works together, so stand up for yourself if your work is on the line.

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