Being a Good Team Player in a Pandemic

Group projects – love them or hate them, you’ll probably find yourself doing a fair few of them during library school. I’m in an all-online program, so I knew going into it that any group projects I had would all be conducted online, but those in in-person or hybrid programs probably expected to be able to meet up with and work on assignments with their group members in person – only to, surprise! – find ourselves going to school during a pandemic. Face-to-face interactions were reduced to Zoom meetings, Doodle polls, and swapping comments in shared Google Docs.

For some of us (me), this is actually the preferred way of doing things. I work full-time, and submitting updates to a shared doc early in the morning before work or late at night after work is a lot easier for me than trying to coordinate a time to meet up with my fellow students (half of which time, at least in my undergraduate experience, ended up subsumed by small talk anyway). But, those benefits – flexible working schedules, saving gas money – don’t mean that online group projects don’t still come with their own set of unique challenges.

I’ll be honest – this past year, I had a tough experience with group projects. I really liked the class I was in and the topics we were covering were interesting to me, but the group members I was (randomly) assigned to work with and I just didn’t… gel. Which is fine! I don’t expect to become fast friends with every single person I encounter in grad school. Personal connection is not a prerequisite for quality group work.

But, open communication, personal accountability, and keeping an open mind are, and we struggled a bit to make those things happen. Here are some things I learned from that experience, and how I intend to try better in the future.

  1. Open communication. I keep weird hours, I know I keep weird hours, and I don’t expect anyone else to keep my same hours. I do, though, mention my personal schedule at the outset of any group project, and I appreciate it when my group members do the same. I also try to be understanding when group members take a day or two to get back to me (sometimes we all just need a little time away from our phones and email, you know?), but I appreciate a heads-up before someone goes totally off grid for a couple of days – especially if it’s near the end date of a project. (With that said, however, this is not a plea to be more open with your group than you feel comfortable with. Your business is your business. There’s nothing wrong with simply saying, “Hey, something came up, and I’m going to take a few days to deal with it. I’ll be checking my email again starting Wednesday.”)
  2. Personal accountability. Anybody else ever get assigned a group member who just didn’t show? Or who started the project but then never followed through with their part? And then you and all the rest of your group members have to cover for them at the last minute? Because I absolutely have. Fortunately, the few times it’s happened to me, the professor has always included some sort of ‘rate your group members’ assignment at the end, where I could vent my frustrations with someone who left the rest of us high and dry. But, that doesn’t do any good in the moment – when you’re staring down a deadline and emailing your group member who was supposed to have submitted their section hours ago and there’s still nothing but a blinking cursor on a blank page. So, besides the obvious advice (don’t be that person who drops the ball for everyone else!), the best way I’ve found to protect myself and my grades from this unfortunate situation is to start work on projects early, and ask my group members for buy-in to the idea of finishing a few days before the due date. That time serves as a cushion just in case we end up in the unfortunate situation where someone in our group (purposefully or otherwise) can’t end up doing their fair share of the work.
  3. Keep an Open Mind. On my most recent (troubled) group project, we got assigned our group members, but it was left pretty open what we wanted to choose as our topic. This ended up causing more consternation than it probably should have. We spent way too much time debating the various pros and cons of different ideas, rather than just, you know, getting to work. We ended up with a topic simply by attrition – individual group members dropped out of the fight one by one until only the loudest voice was left. Which isn’t a great way to choose or decide anything! The project ended up fine and we got a good grade on it, but I wish now I’d intervened sooner – suggested a more neutral, ‘third option’ topic, maybe, or even gotten the professor involved. Because, in the end, it didn’t matter what we picked, just that we fulfilled the assignment, and holding on too tight to what you envision as the ‘perfect’ topic, to the exclusion of anyone else’s opinion, doesn’t help.

Finally, I try to be generous and keep in mind that this is a hard, weird time for us all, and that in the end, we’re all in library school to learn new things, pass our classes, make good projects, and graduate with a minimum of drama. Some situations make this more difficult than others, but assuming the best of people (and not prying when they’re clearly not able to give their best) goes a long way.

Any other tips for making groups and group projects a more painless process, especially in all-virtual settings? Please share in the comments below!

Lauren lives in Los Angeles and expects to graduate from the iSchool at San José State University in 2024. She works in circulation and ILL for a community college library and really misses her student workers while WFH, although she does appreciate the ability to pet her dog whenever she wants.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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