The Guide to Working Effectively in Group Projects

Group projects are something that almost every student finds to be dreadful. Some may try to avoid it as much as possible to choose courses that don’t require any teamwork, others may try to push it off and just hope that it goes well.

But let’s face the reality – almost all of us have to face at least one group project in our studies.

So how can we do well in it? How can we cooperate with our group members effectively? How can we set a good work attitude in our group?

This article is going to answer all these questions you may have. I have also made a group project planner for you to download, so make sure to read the post and find out how you can utilize it! 🙂


Why group projects?

At some point in your college career, you may ask, why do we need group projects at all? Aren’t we better off with just individual assignments? Don’t we all perform better when we are just required to do our own work? Doesn’t that make life easier?

The answer is probably yes. You may work better and more effectively when you are alone for your school work.

But that’s not the reality in the society. When you are in the work industry, you are bound to collaborate with others. You are required to communicate, network, and work together with other people.

And that’s the very reason why you are trained to work as a team.

The benefits of teamwork

So, before you feel dreadful about having to work in a group, let’s think positively about the benefits of working as a team.

  • Better ideas: More brains mean more ideas. It’s often through group discussion can we brainstorm some of the best ideas.
  • Better outcome: We all have different skills. When well utilized, they can come together and do great things.
  • Support: Working in a team means we can support each other and motivate each other.
  • Personal improvement: We can learn from each other through working, and constantly get inspired by our peers. Through working with others, you can also learn more about yourself and understand your strengths and weaknesses. This can help you better find your own role in teamwork in the future, and help you foster the skills that you are good at and improve on your weaknesses.
  • Skills acquisition: As mentioned above, you will need to work and collaborate with others in the future. Doing so in universities can help you adapt to team works and sharpens your communication and leadership skills.

Now that we have understood the benefits of teamwork, and how group projects can benefit us in the future, we can now move on to the tips on how we can actually do well in projects.


The Steps in Group Work

When working on group projects, there are often a few stages before you go from zero to completion. The stages include:

  1. Group formation
  2. Planning and Preparation
  3. Implementation
  4. Completion

By using the right strategies, you can better perform in all of the stages mentioned above, and to better facilitate communication between the group.


1. Group formation

This is the stage when the group is formed. It is when everyone is usually friendly and positive, and group members are often not sure what they have to do during this stage. It is also the time when you all get to know each other and learn about the requirements of the project.

How to choose my group members?

If you are allowed to choose your group members, it is often recommended that you choose your group members wisely. Choosing the right group members can help you work smoothly.

Here are some considerations you may want to take into account when choosing your group members:

  • Are they going to give this course/project a high priority? I have had experiences working with students who take this course but don’t really care about the grade at all because the course won’t count into their GPA. This makes the working experience very bad as they don’t even bother putting any effort in it. You can evaluate their attitude by considering:
    • How attentive they are in class
    • Whether they normally take their assignments seriously
    • Whether they actively participate in discussion during class
    • Their study habits
  • Have you worked with them before? Consider the past experience you had with them. Was it pleasant working with them? Are you guys able to work effectively?
  • Do they have skills that you don’t have and that are very useful in the project? If you are required to film a video for your project, and you don’t know anything about video editing, it may be great if you can get a group member that has video-editing skills.
  • Are they willing to share their expertise and knowledge? Are they open to discussion? Do they often share the things the know and the resources they have? Willingness to contribute is vital in group projects.

What should be done in the first group meeting?

The first group meeting is often a very important stage of group projects. In the first group meeting, there are a few things you need to do.

  1. Get to know your group members. This is certainly not limited to exchanging contact information, names, etc. It includes getting to know each others’ majors, strengths, weaknesses, and interests so to facilitate role allocation.
  2. Learn about the requirements of the projects. All of the group members should learn about the following:
    • The product: what is the outcome of the project? What are you required to produce? Do you need to do a presentation? What are the guidelines given by the lecturer?
    • The timeline and deadlines: When are you required to submit your outline/draft/product?
    • The assessment criteria: How will your project be marked? What are the criteria of marking?
  3. Set up communication or collaboration system. It is essential to make sure that there is a way for all of you to communicate and work together. Please see below for some app recommendations.

Why should you have your first meeting right after class?

Having the first meeting right after you know the instructions of the group project and form your group is ideal. This is because:

  • Everyone is there already. You won’t have to set up a meeting time that suits everyone (which is very difficult) and wait for everyone to arrive.
  • The detail and requirements of the project are fresh in everyone’s mind, and usually, people do have some ideas about it at this moment. Having a discussion now can make sure that you all can have a slight reflection on the initial ideas that you have.
  • You can go straight to the professor if your group has some questions or things regarding the project that need clarification.

Related: 5 Simple Ways to Become A Better Leader

What communication and collaboration system should you go for?

There are couple ones for teamwork out there, many are made for businesses. But you can make it as a tool for your group project as well. My recommendations are:

  • Asana: Project and task management – you can easily assign tasks, add details deadlines and a bit of communication using this app. (Find out how you can use Asana here!)
  • Slack: Slack is another communication tool that you can use for your group project.
  • Google drive and Google docs: using Google drive and Google docs, you can easily share files and edit documents together. You can also easily comment on the document to notify other group members.

Related: The Ultimate Guide: Apps for Students


2. Planning and Preparation

After forming the group and getting to know each other, it’s time to plan exactly how you would like to work on your project. At this stage, you can start by first dividing different parts of the task, then allocate the work according to each’s strengths and expertise, and finally create an action plan.

Understanding the goals of your group

This is the time when you discuss your ideas on the project. The following gives you some indicators as to what you have to discuss and compromise on.

  • What will your project topic be? What issues will it cover?
  • How are you going to carry out the project? What methods and strategies are you going to use?
  • What product will you produce? What method of presentation will you use?
  • How can your group best satisfy the different requirements and assessment criteria of the project?

Tip: Set out agenda and things to prepare before going into a meeting.

One of the reasons why many groups seem to not communicate well and be very unproductive during meetings is because they are not even clear what they are going to discuss during the meeting. Because of that, letting all the members in the group know the agenda or things to be covered prior to the meeting can give realistic expectation to group members. Having an agenda, it can also help guide the discussion and prevent it from going all over the place (or even turn into a chit chat session).

Another thing you can do is to suggest your group members to prepare for certain things before coming to the meeting. This includes prepare some suggested topics, do some background research, or organize relevant lecture content. All of these could help make the meeting go smoother since all of the group members will have some idea about the project and can share their thoughts and research with other members.

Agree upon the elements of the project

After knowing the basic details of the project, it’s time to move on and talk about what elements your project has. Are you going to divide your project according to different sections? Or are you going to divide it according to different methods?

Define each group member’s role and responsibilities

Knowing the strengths and interests of each group member in the first meeting, this step seems to be an easy one. The key point here is, make sure everyone knows clearly what they have to do, and what they are responsible for. If possible, you can also discuss the specific directions and tasks for each member so that everyone is on the same page.

It is also important that the role and task allocation is fair and corresponds to the strengths and interests of every group member. This can help reduce conflict within the group.

Set deadlines and make an action plan

Nothing is more important than having an action plan. People often needs some deadlines to give them a sense of urgency to work, and that’s the very reason why you should set specific deadlines for the each person’s tasks. This can also avoid some people thinking that they won’t have to start doing anything unless someone else does, because they will have to make sure that they meet their own deadlines. Their deadlines can act as their guidance


3. Implementation

After all the planning, it is the time when we actually have to start working on the project. Many people would then work by themselves starting from this stage, and just send the final product to the group leader by deadline. While this may work for some groups, it may result in people not working until the very last day before the deadline.

Establish regular meetings

Set up regular meetings to check up all others work. During these meetings, everyone has to report on what they have done so far. This would let all the group members know the following.

  • Are all the group members working on their tasks?
  • Is everyone doing what we have initially compromised on?
  • Is the group as a whole having a good progress?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • How can we adjust our strategies or work to improve our project?

Alternatively, you can also check in with everyone through your communication system every now and then. If you realize that someone is having difficulties in completing their work, you can try talking to them privately and assist their work.

Set your deadlines well before the project deadline

Some groups may make the mistake of setting the deadline right before the final deadline of the project given by the professor. This is certainly not a wise decision.

Imagine what your work would look like if you just combine each student’s work (with very different styles, formatting and language use) together?

Worse still, since everyone works and writes differently, by just combining everyone’s work, it may look very incoherent or it may not even make sense at first glance.

Because of that, it is necessary to set a deadline well before (let’s say at least one week) the final deadline of the project to make sure that you have sufficient time to edit the project and to ensure its coherency.


4. Completion

Now that everyone has finished their work by the deadline, it’s time for you to work on integrating them together and finalizing the project.

The editor of the group

In order to ensure that the whole project can be coherent, someone has to take up the role of the editor and make sure everyone’s part integrate together well. Things that require editing include:

  • Formatting
  • Writing style or delivery style
  • Transition between different parts
  • Overall layout/design/style

Related: 11 Writing Tips Even J.K. Rowling Would Like to Know

Group together to review the final outcome

After editing the project, it is always a great idea to let everyone knows what the final outcome looks like. While you can do so by sending it online, it would be great if you all can meet up and share your point of view and comments or possible amendments for the final product.

This again can help make sure that everyone knows what is going on and what the final product look like, and everyone can have a say before handing it in.

If you have to prepare for a presentation for your project, you can read the post How To Prepare For a Presentation and also Top 4 Tips For Delivering a Perfect Class Presentation.


FREE Group Project Planner

Want to put all the tips mentioned above in good use? Here is the planner that can help you do that!

In this planner, you can write down:

  • Information of your group members: the contact information of your group members, and their strengths/weaknesses/skills
  • The outline of the project: this includes the goals, requirements, format, and timeframe of the project.
  • Meeting schedule: the dates and time of your regular meeting, and the agenda of the meeting
  • Tasks: what each member is responsible for, the deadlines of the task and the updates/progress of it.

Remember to download the printable in ST Resource Library!


To sum everything up…

Group projects are still dreadful, and they do require a lot of work. However, if you make your project more systematic, and if you have set the norms and objectives clear right at the beginning, group projects really shouldn’t be that painful. Of course, you may still encounter difficulties during the project, but with the objectives in mind and open discussion, you are more likely to search for solutions together as a group rather than focusing on the struggles and conflicts.

Giving clear guidance and having constant updates and follow-ups is the key in all steps of working on a group project (i.e. group formation, planning, implementation and completion). Once you have made everything clear, and with the help of the project planner I have made for you, I am sure the whole process would be much smoother!

Do you like group projects? What are some best/worst teamwork experiences you had? Tell me in the comment section!



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