Getting Through Group Projects

In Library and Information Science programs, there’s one assignment that students dread more than any other. Yes, I’m talking about the group project. Group projects are extremely common in LIS programs, so there’s no way to avoid them. In fact, I’m currently in a class where group work accounts for 70% of my final grade. I’ll be the first to admit that relying on other classmates to receive a good grade is stressful, but to successfully make it through the degree, group projects are a necessary evil.

A common justification for group projects is that students will ultimately work in groups in their professional careers; collaboration in the workplace is becoming more and more common. In libraries, this translates to working on committees, planning outreach and programming initiatives for patrons, or collaborating on collection development.

While the classroom can never accurately reflect real world circumstances in the workplace, there are still valuable skills that can be gained from group projects in the classroom. Collaborating with individuals from different backgrounds, networking, practicing patience and empathy, managing time, and communicating with others are all skills that can develop from group projects. Remember to keep it positive! Group projects have a due date, so remind yourself that this assignment won’t last the rest of your life. In my experience, communicating, remaining open to giving and receiving feedback, and allowing yourself to be flexible can help streamline the group project process. 

Communication.

Others before me have discussed the importance of communication in group work. Without solid communication, group projects can fall apart. Setting clear expectations and deadlines at the beginning of the assignment will help keep everyone on track. Everyone’s schedules will not always sync, so I prefer to communicate over Google docs or by email. There are plenty of technologies and web apps available to help streamline the process. If you attend an in-person program, some groups may initially meet face-to-face to set expectations. It’s up to the group to discuss and decide which methods work best.

Communicating any issues that arise is also crucial when working in a group. If you can’t meet a deadline, have something unexpected come up in your life, or you are struggling to understand a portion of your project, then communicating those issues can help your team adapt to the situation. It’s easy to assume a team member is purposely not doing their portion of the work if they are not communicating properly. If something comes up, let your group mates know. They’ll appreciate the openness.

Feedback.

Giving and receiving feedback can be very difficult and, sometimes, a little terrifying; however, I find that being open to giving and receiving feedback is crucial to a successful group project. Google conducted a study where they found that highly successful teams cultivated an environment of psychological safety, meaning individuals felt that it was safe to share their ideas and provide feedback to other members of the group. This is not an easy task, and the geniuses at Google had a difficult time figuring out how to cultivate a psychologically safe environment. Recognizing that everyone has something valuable to contribute towards the group is a good start. Asking each member for feedback on an idea or contribution may also help others feel comfortable enough to provide and receive feedback as well. Allowing free-flowing conversation about ideas and remaining open to feedback and criticism can make your group stronger. 

Flexibility.

Going with the flow and remaining flexible are important for group dynamics and for your sanity. Something will always come up during a group project because that’s how life works; You just have to roll with the punches. That might mean trying a new communication style. Perhaps someone in your group drops off the face of the earth and you have to complete their portion of the project. Hopefully, if the group is communicating properly, this does not become an issue, but these things can happen. What’s important is how you respond to them. Remaining open-minded and flexible to unforeseen circumstances will make for a much easier group project.

Remember, group projects have to be done to graduate. There’s no way around it. Might as well make the best of them and find the positives where you can!

What are your experiences with group work? What other strategies have worked well for you when navigating group projects? 

Previous post on group projects: Playing Nicely With Others: Doing Group Work

Cover photo: “Three Dog Fight” by jimthompson. Licensed under CC 2.0


Melissa DeWitt is an MLIS student at the University of Denver. You can find her on Twitter

3 replies

  1. Nice post! Our management class consisted solely of group work. In fact, we only had two projects the entire semester; one was in small groups, and one was the whole class working together. Our entire grade was on those two projects. It was actually awesome (from my perspective), but I do know that some people wanted to kill each other by the end…

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  2. Group work is way overdone. Yes, it teaches useful skills, but it doesn’t need to be done in nearly as many classes as it shows up in. One or two group projects would be plenty, especially as group projects frequently show up in undergrad classes too. All the group projects deprive students of getting to work through all phases of a project as an individual or create an article they can publish and talk about during a job interview. Instead they end up with little pieces of multiple projects they can talk about.

    TL;DR: Dial the group projects back a little, profs, people don’t need them in every class.

    With that in mind, strategies, or at least damage control: Ask for the chance to do 360 reviews of other project members, and if someone isn’t doing their part let the review reflect that (it probably won’t change anything anyway, if that makes you feel better). If you feel the amount of group projects in a class or program don’t reflect your educational needs, be sure that is shown in your course evaluations and use the free text block to indicate that was a factor. Ask for a little classroom time to discuss group projects, that is probably the only time people’s schedules will line up (do the rest on Google docs or whatever). Document what everyone does in case someone does something really stupid (like plagiarizes a chunk of their section). Look for elective or sections of courses that will let you do something you want to do from start to finish so you have a complete project to talk about or even take an independent study. If you’re stuck with a group project anyway try to be chair (or leader, or whatever you call it) so you can claim project management experience.

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    • Thanks for the comment! I have also had experiences where group work is overdone and can be a bit of a crutch in a class. I like your suggestion for including critiques in the course evaluation if group projects did not really contribute to your educational needs. I do feel that group work can be valuable for interviews. I’ve been asked about my function or role in a group setting, and many jobs like knowing about a time you either had to work through a conflict in a group, or had to collaborate with other individuals.

      I like when professors allow group members to review each other as well. I think group members should be transparent with one another during the actual project and not necessarily at the end. Most of my group issues have been dealt with before the deadline, but I know this might not always work out.

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