Two’s company, three’s a crowd

Surviving group projects in college

By Sophie Isbister, Life & Style Editor

Group work: we all hate it, but we all have to do it. It’s horrible to have to work with a bunch of randomly assigned peers, but like it or not, group work is one of the few aspects of college that is typically replicated in the “real world.”

It seems like every college group project team consists of the same types of people. There are one or two sociable slackers, one micromanaging keener desperate for that A, and a few people in between who aren’t that bright but can at least follow orders. The key to getting the work done without going crazy is to clearly identify who the leader is, and who your weak links are.

I say this as a self-confessed weak link—it’s true, I am a procrastinator who doesn’t work well with others. But over the course of my years at post-secondary, I’ve learned a few tips that help make group work go smoothly. The main thing is setting goals and designating a leader right from the beginning. Set a separate due date for yourselves, a few days ahead of the actual due date. This way you have time to tie up any loose ends.

While identifying a team leader is important, the leader can’t work alone, which is why it’s a good idea to designate a “party whip” to help out the leader. In political parties, the party whip is the person who makes sure everyone gets to Parliament to vote on bills—they literally whip everyone into action. A good group project dynamic needs this person! Your whip can nudge people along and remind them about meetings. This is a good job for the more social member of your group, as they’re probably talking to everyone anyway.

A harmonious group also needs a good way to stay in touch. This is where cloud-based file sharing is a great invention! Whether you start a Facebook group for your project, or just an email chain with Google Drive, you need a way to keep all the brainstorming in one area. I recommend Facebook for this—you’re always on it anyway, so you may as well create a private group for your project, and share files there.

The Internet works great for the brainstorming phase, because let’s face it, not everyone is going to be able to make weekly meet-ups on campus. We all have jobs outside of school; some of us even have two! Try to keep meeting up to a minimum, but keep your online planning group organized. Make a collaborative document that outlines the project’s various tasks and timelines, and have them all clearly assigned early on. Check in frequently with each other.

And finally, if there’s someone in your group who just isn’t doing the work, feel free to rat on them. This is your grade too, after all. Luckily, many teachers mark everyone separately for group work, but that doesn’t mean you should be stuck with dead weight. Try to resolve the problem among yourselves, but don’t be afraid to ask for help.