5 Steps to Achieving Productive Group Work
We’ve all been through those terrible group projects at least once in our lives. You’re assigned to work in a group (that you didn’t get to choose) for one project or the whole semester and your group struggles with poor communication, unproductive meetings, and a grand display of minimum possible effort. During my time at San Jose State University, I took a course that covered each of these problems, as well as how we can manage them. Since I know that we all wrestle with this, I want to share some helpful tips with you from my own experience and from what I learned in this class!
1. Figure out your method of communication RIGHT AWAY!
Establishing a method of communication that every group member has available to them is the way that your group will plan meetings, figure out how to come together, ask each other questions, and much more. I know some things are hard to talk about when you come together at first, as this may be the first time you are getting to know everybody, but this will allow you to talk to them later when you’re more comfortable - trust me, you’ll need it! I once went almost a whole month in a group that didn’t speak to each other. When we were assigned to be a group, we had time to sign up for roles that we were supposed to rotate throughout every week for the different group exercises. I, of course, was left with the most challenging role for the first group exercise. But since we didn’t establish ANY method of communication, besides a Google Doc, when the second assignment came around, I couldn’t confirm that we were switching roles because I didn’t want anyone to expect me to do the hard role for a second time. We ended up stumbling through some assignments until we finally got together in class and exchanged numbers so that we were all on the same page. That being said, PLEASE, for your group, be the one to speak up and ask for their numbers or for a better way to communicate with them outside of class.
2. Communicate the when, where, and how of meetings.
Group meetings are how you will complete your project or assignment. Be sure to communicate with each other on when, where, and how you will be meeting. If you find that trying to figure out everyone’s schedules in person is too difficult, try using a tool like Doodle that allows each group member to select times they’re free for a meeting. If everyone's schedule is too conflicting, online meetings might be something you want to consider. I lived on campus at SJSU this year, but the rest of my group members didn't so we figured that since one member gets home from work around 7pm, we could have an 8pm meeting online so no one would have to travel that late and more people can make the meeting. You can use strategies like a phone call that can call multiple numbers, a Zoom conference, or a conference on your school’s learning management system to meet up and talk while working on a Google Doc. Be sure to consider all of your options when trying to arrange a meeting and find out the best times and methods for everyone to make it worthwhile and convenient.
3. Always structure your group meetings & assign roles.
So you have your group meeting scheduled, whether online or in person, but what do you talk about at the group meeting? I’ve gone through multiple meetings that don’t have a structure or agenda so by the end of the meeting, we’re pretty much back to where we started. It’s honestly very draining running around in circles. To achieve more structure, first you should analyze what tasks you actually have to get done and prioritize the ones that need to be completed before the meeting ends. Try not to put too much on your team in a given time. Find a doable and realistic set of tasks that can be accomplished and still leave you in a good position for the rest of the time you have on the project. With this task list in mind and shared with the group, have someone be the orienter of the group. The person with this role will have the task list in mind throughout conversation in the meeting and will steer people back on track when they trail off. Group roles like the orienter are important for allowing the team to get to know what each member strives for, as well as how well they work in their comfortable environment. Some other roles include the coordinator (brings ideas together), the encourager (praises member contribution), and the initiator (proposes new ideas and suggestions). There are so many roles to choose from, but try sitting down with your group or making time for it at your first meeting. It’ll help your team’s productivity in the long run if you truly think about what you could be best at for your group.
4. Encourage equal effort for everyone.
In the study of organizational behavior, social loafing is the tendency for individuals to exert less effort when they work in a group. I think we’ve all had to deal with this kind of person at one point or another, but how do you actually work with it instead of around it? Some known methods that can help you with this are: (1) making individual contributions identifiable, (2) reminding individuals that they are making special and valuable contributions, and (3) agreeing on rules. These actions can be done by anyone in the group, but the purpose is to make each person understand that the task their assigned to has an important purpose in the final product of the project. Therefore, it’s important that each member works hard on their portion until they’re confident that it’s complete or ready for the next person to work on it.
5. Set goals & encourage reaching them!
Sure, it’s great to have structure even from some of the points I mentioned here, but from a behavioral standpoint, one of the best ways to have a productive group on a project is to create an environment where they feel encouraged to do their best. For this process, set a goal as a group near the beginning of your project for what kind of grade you want to achieve on it and maybe some specific goals for parts of the project. It’s best to have goals that are difficult but acceptable for the group - that way they aren’t too easy to achieve and they won’t drop performance because of it. With those goals in mind and accountability on others to help achieve them, you can have a happy medium to create an environment that has potential to achieve that high grade and a group that can work well together.
It’s no secret that group work can be something that is dreaded no matter what grade level you are but depending on how you go about organizing, managing, maintaining, and encouraging your group, your experience working with others can change significantly for the better.
Class Plug: If you’re interested in this kind of learning about groups and you attend San Jose State University, BUS3 160 might be a class that’s appealing to you - and it’s required for Marketing majors. (WOO!)