“Students, we’re going to start a group project for the next two weeks.” Collective groaning erupts.
Why do students dread group projects? If you’ve ever been a student, you know the answer to this:
- Nobody answers your texts.
- Your grade depends on other people.
- You may end up doing most of the work yourself.
There is one more answer that you may not have considered:
- You need to learn effective project management skills.
Project management skills are vital in a classroom setting, yet many classroom teachers expect random groups of students to figure it out for themselves. During my career in tech, I’ve seen good project management move mountains, and bad project management leave teams dejected and pointing fingers at each other. Collaborating with others is a critical life skill, and there are techniques you must learn to be effective at it.
Improving the Group Dynamic
During a group project, you may not have the time to get to know your team through team building activities. Team building improves trust between team members and increases motivation to do great work. But more often than not, this element is completely missing when taking on group projects and forces students to rely on self-motivation.
When you don’t know your team very well, you need to think like a professional and set a clear working agreement with the other professionals on your team. Improving your group dynamics will help get everyone on their ‘A’ game make the group project more fun. When you form your team, spend some time talking about how you’re going to work together. Get agreement on the fundamentals. Go through the following list of group dynamic tips with your team.
Tips to Improve Group Dynamics
Here are some tips for everyone in your group:
- Communicate Frequently - Decide how often you’re going to check-in and keep your team informed. Ask for help when you need it! When possible, seek feedback from your team.
- Plan as a Team - Good planning leads to successful projects. When you have a short amount of time to plan as a team, start at a high level to get a general sense of the big picture. Leave the details to the person actively working on that piece.
- Challenge Ideas - Ask for alternative viewpoints or ideas, discuss disagreements, and most importantly, listen to everyone on the team. Shy team? Encourage everyone to express an opinion.
- Take Ownership - Active team members take on tasks and have control over their work. Passive team members wait to be assigned tasks and told what to do. Encourage everyone on your team to be active!
- Set Achievable Goals - Break the work down into items that can be accomplished within a short timeframe.
- Keep the Big Picture In Mind - Rubrics are given by teachers to ensure you’re meeting standards and learning objectives. Criteria define what success looks like. Keep your criteria handy so you can self-evaluate as you progress.
Tools make it easier to collaborate and communicate with your team. The most common tools for collaboration are chat tools like Slack™ or phone messaging. They also use organizational apps like Trello™ to keep organized lists, and file storage sites like Google Drive™ to keep the work in one place. Most industrial-strength project management tools come at a monthly subscription fee and are not suitable for ad-hoc teams who materialize briefly and vanish once the project is complete. If you use too many tools that don’t integrate well with each other, keeping track of conversations can be an issue.
Tips for Tools and Organization:
- Try to keep your conversations in one place so everyone on the team can see them. Offline conversations cause chaos.
- Tools like Google Docs™ have commenting features so your team can comment on each others’ work. Feedback is essential!
- Keep your project documents in one place where everyone on the team can see them. Avoid using email to send critical documents to other team members.
- Keep administrative stuff to a minimum. A task or work item on a list should have just enough information to act on. Keep it to one or two sentences.
- Keep your project rubric close by. This is the criteria your project will be judged on.
The dreaded group project doesn’t have to be a painful experience. Working on a project is a constant conversation with your team. Staying focused and organized is key to success, but so is having fun!