Not Another Group Project! Overcoming the Most Common Challenges of Working in Teams

Posted by on February 26, 2015

As we cross the threshold of mid-quarter, students and faculty alike at Minnesota School of Business (MSB)-Richfield sigh in relief that those exams and projects have come to a close and grades have been recorded.

In just a few weeks, however, we’ll be wrapping up another term and a slew of assignments and projects will be due. The often feared and highly complained about group projects tend to happen during the final weeks of the term. While many students assume group work is assigned as cruel and usual punishment, and feel it is a grave injustice to have their ability to collaborate with others, factored into a final grade — there is a method behind the madness of group work.

MSB-Richfield students working together

Contrary to popular belief, instructors assign group projects to foster a higher level of learning and help students hone their teamwork abilities, which are necessary both academically and professionally.

MSB-Richfield librarian, Carol Roos, notes the importance of group work in preparing students for the workforce.

“Group work is pre-work for team development. Coworkers are of more value than Google most of the time!” Roos said. She also points out the value of sharing group work experiences during job interviews as evidence of the applicant’s ability to collaborate.

To better prepare for a positive group experience and improve your chances of earning a better grade, we would like to offer you some of the common group work mishaps as well as ways to overcome these potential pitfalls.

1). Overzealous Group Member / Uninvolved Group Member

We have all been in a group with that one team member who charges in, sometimes bulldozing other group members in the process. You have also likely experienced the member who mimics your freeloading friend, sitting back, letting others do all the work. Take a step back and define roles and expectations as a group. Openly discuss grade expectations during your first group meeting in addition to communicating about strengths/skills of group members. For example, if your research skills are lacking, but you are stellar at creating presentations, offer that information to your group members. Once roles are assigned, ensure that the workload is appropriately balanced with deadlines in place.

Internet Marketing Program Chair (our resident tech guru) Richard Grossman also suggests that students keep a log of their hours. “This helps students learn client billing skills and instills a critical appreciation for the value of their time and expertise,” he said. Grossman even offered some tools for tracking hours:

  • Hours Tracker for iOS
  • Less Time Spent: Useful tips on creating an Excel Spreadsheet to track billable hours for multiple projects with weekly and monthly views. There’s also a free template you can download at this link toward the bottom of the web page.

Tracking hours offers group members greater transparency and accountability and helps ensure that the division of labor is equitable.

If a group member still does not follow-through on their responsibilities, connect with them right away to openly discuss your concerns and if needed re-distribute responsibility. For group work to work, all team members must commit to being flexible and adaptable!

2) Coordinating Schedules.

Students are busy people! Work, school, family and friends can create demanding and conflicting schedules. During your first group meeting, determine set dates where every group member can commit to being present. Be open to considering remote options like Skyping, FaceTime, or even a Lync Meeting. Google hangouts can be another great platform for meeting and connects well with document sharing via Google Docs. If there are multiple group members, consider dividing the work into sub teams with team members whose schedules are more compatible. Meeting before or after class can also be a good option.

3) Conflict

If you are doing any type of work with others, expect there to be conflict. Even if you outline expectations as described above, there will inevitably be a time where one team member disagrees about how the project should be done. Expect there to be conflict and be prepared to address it. Have a conversation about how to manage the conflict before it arises. Be direct, immediate and professional in communication about concerns. Nevertheless, keep in mind that group work is also about compromise.

As you roll your eyes and sigh about yet another group project, take a deep breath, remember this is for your benefit, and think about the suggestions listed above. We can’t promise you the perfect group without its challenges and difficulties, but we can all but guarantee your chances of having a better experience will improve by following the suggestions above.

Thank you for your Interest in Minnesota School of Business.