The Ever-Dreaded Group Work

During my various internships and volunteer experiences, I’ve worked with people that I really enjoy. Across different ages, professions, and outlooks, people often have a tendency to come together for something important. However, this isn’t always the case.

Over the last week or so, I’ve found myself in two distinctly different group work scenarios. In one group, we talked about what each member had a knack for and divided work up based on our specific talents and skill sets. It’s worked out swimmingly. Everyone is happy and we have a great end-product. We worked together on the things that required a bit more diversity and understood how to complement each other’s talents.
It’s been an unlikely success story for a college group project.
In another class, I’m facing the opposite situation. The group doesn’t communicate well outside of class, and when we are in contact with each other, there isn’t much productivity. Group members are trying to micro-manage each other, and tensions have gotten pretty high at points. When nasty e-mails started flying (when we should have calmly talked out these problems during class) I realized how far out of hand things had gotten. We needed to reorganize and cooperate.
A lot of things had to happen for the group to get back on track:
  1. We had to put our egos in check. All of us. Myself included. When you get four (or, in many cases, more) people trying to be right all the time, tempers can get high. Working well in a group requires everyone to admit their limitations and own up to the fact that you’re generally equals.
  2. We had to acknowledge each other’s skills. In this particular group, we need to use Adobe programs to make a finished product. I’m the only person with any experience with PhotoShop, which means my contribution has become fairly focused into that area of the project. The other girls in our group have talents spread across writing, organization, planning…not everyone can do everything in the project, but everyone has something to contribute.
  3. We had to figure out how to spread the work evenly (as best we could). No one likes to feel excluded, and no one likes to feel like they’re doing all of the work. You can’t always evenly split it, since everyone’s abilities apply to each project differently. However, being shy to responsibility or being a work hog can reflect on you poorly in the end.
  4. We had to remind ourselves to smile. We are all stressed out right now. Finals start on Monday and week ten on a trimester schedule is always stressful. I have three large projects due between Friday and Tuesday, and the next few days are going to be very touch-and-go as far as my stress levels are concerned. One of the things I needed to remind myself about was that all of the people I am working with are in the same boat. We are all stressed out right now. So, sometimes the best thing to do is blow off some steam. Laugh, smile, don’t be afraid to have fun while you work together. A happy individual generally equals a happy group member. Don’t forget that.
Overall, I was reminded of some valuable lessons today about cooperation. Not everyone understands good group dynamics. Most college students don’t have the professional and volunteer experiences I have when it comes to cooperation and working together. In fact, I feel very blessed to have these experiences under my belt. In the long run, they’ll help me.
Next time you’re faced with the task of working with others (especially ones you may not know or haven’t worked with before), think about the mindset with which you step into the project. Respect, cooperation, and trust can go a long way. And please, please, please do not resort to sending snobby e-mails rather than sorting out problems in person. That’s a wonderful first step towards an unhappy group.

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