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5 Tips for Successful Group Projects

Student Health 101

Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 20:02

image Group Projects Illustration Margaret Spengler/MCT

Illustration by Margaret Spengler/MCT

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Sound familiar? This famous quote from Aristotle (384 BC–322 BC) is applicable when people are working together to reach a goal. With more brain resources and perspectives, there’s the opportunity for more success than if each person worked alone. Said another way, “Two heads are better than one.”

Group work is everywhere; collaboration happens in every academic major and in every career. In a recent Student Health 101 survey, about 40 percent of students reported working in teams on academic projects or other activities at least a few times a semester.

In these situations, the people involved have a shared purpose or mission. This is different than when people congregate in one place, but are focused on different things, like in a study group.

According to Dr. Terri Bonner Ewers, dean of student development at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City, “Being able to effectively work with others enhances career opportunities as well as life satisfaction.”

The ability to work effectively with people who have different communication styles is seen as essential by most employers.

Here are five strategies for successful collaboration:

1. Keep Communication Open

If you’ve ever been to summer camp, you probably remember the activities that sneakily helped you get to know other campers. Icebreakers are still fantastic for adults: they not only help a group learn one another’s names, but also loosen everyone up, and start the creativity flowing.

Robert Palmer is a senior consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm in Arlington, Virginia. He explains, “You must create an open forum for communication to increase the overall pool of thought. I notice in groups that certain members have strong opinions and attempt to force them onto their colleagues, who then get defensive, and other great ideas are not heard. Every environment has diversity in terms of working styles and personalities; you need to be sensitive to these.”

The best part about a group is that everyone gets to contribute, and your peers are surely considering ideas that you wouldn’t have.

Remember this quote from Greek philosopher Epictetus (55 AD–135 AD): “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

2. Know Your Strengths

Your team will be most effective when everyone uses their strengths, which means you need to know your own. What types of task do you succeed at the most?

Knowing the answers to this kind of question can help you have a satisfying experience, and will boost your confidence in other aspects of your life. Check with your school’s career center or counseling service, in person or online, to find out if a “strengths evaluation” is available. Online resources can be used to help you identify your strengths if this kind of assessment is unavailable through your school.

3. Be Responsible

No matter their goals, teams and ensembles perform at their peak when all members are committed to the same values. Once you say you will do something, hold yourself accountable. Not doing your part isn’t just hurting you, but it could bring the whole team down.

Of course, there may be times when members of your group aren’t pulling their weight.

4. Take Charge

If your team seems to be losing focus, consider a management role. Being a leader doesn’t mean doing everything or ordering people around. Instead, it’s about listening, delegating, and assessing people’s interests and strengths. Flexibility is a big part of leadership.

If too many people try to take charge at the same time, confusion and resentment can follow. To avoid this, have each person take the lead role on a distinct set of responsibilities.

For example, one person can coordinate meetings, another can focus on the resources needed for your project, and a third could organize your group presentation.

5. Keep Calm and Be Patient

More than 80 percent of respondents to theStudent Health 101 survey said they experience some amount of worry when working on a team.

Address nerves proactively by showing up to team meetings prepared with notes or ideas and using relaxation techniques, such as taking a few deep breaths before the work begins or if you feel yourself getting tense. This can also be useful before a class presentation, or if someone is “pressing your buttons.” Not everyone has honed his or her team-work skills as much as you have!

Before pouncing on someone behaving in a frustrating way, stop and think about how you would want to be approached. Ask an open-ended question or that the person clarify what he or she is saying, rather than lose confidence in the group member.

Teams are everywhere, and the root of a successful one begins with you. With group work skills in your toolbox, you’ll be able to work smoothly and effectively with people in many settings.

Copyright 2012 Student Health 101

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