Group Work: How to Survive & Even Thrive

The topic of group work has been a frequent one at HLS and since I am embroiled in a lengthy and complicated group project during this fall quarter at the UW iSchool, I thought I would highlight some of the previous blog posts on this topic (since they are so well written!) and offer my own two cents about how to succeed and survive group work. Love it or hate it, group work will almost certainly be a part of your MLIS experience, and it will be important to figure out how to be a successful group member and perhaps deal with group members who aren’t so stellar.

               In 2017, HLS blogger Melissa Dewitt, explained how communication, feedback, and flexibility are key components of working in a group and getting that project turned in on time. Being honest with each other and communicating when an issue comes up that is preventing you from either understanding a portion of the assignment or if something is hampering your ability to complete your section of the project on time. Don’t suffer in silence, talk to your group! Feedback is something that is easier said than done but can flow more easily if strong communication is established; I know I often want feedback but rarely receive it. And being flexible to me means to release my expectations for how a group project should go and remember your group has a lot to offer, everyone works differently, and the project will (usually) work out in the end.

               In 2018, HLS blogger Ian Harmon, outlined The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of group projects in a post that we can probably all relate to – group work can indeed be rewarding, stressful, and frustrating all at the same time! When you have a great group to work with it can be a lot of fun and you will undoubtedly learn a great deal. I feel this way about my current group where we are working together to create a Thesaurus in an online tool and collaborate on a lengthy paper to support it. We all have different working styles, but we communicate often and are committed to doing our best while managing the stresses of other MLIS obligations and life. The “ugly” group projects do indeed happen and are usually the results of poor communication or a group member who doesn’t pull their weight. You just have to get through those projects and use it as a learning experience and a challenging time you can speak about during a future job interview.

               In 2019, HLS blogger Alice, had some great tips specifically for creating successful online group projects including treating your group members the way you want to be treated (so important!), don’t wait for others to start (yes, yes, yes!), be flexible, and don’t be afraid to express your thoughts. Not waiting for others to start resonates with me the most as I am often the one to get a team chat started or create the working Google doc. I’m not sure if my group members perceive me as overbearing in this regard but I mostly think they appreciate someone stepping up and taking the initiative.

               And finally, in another 2019 post titled The Tyranny of Group Projects, HLS blogger Nick Dean brought to light a wonderful tweet by Dr. Emily Vardell (@evardell) that said “if we want to teach teamwork, it needs to go beyond putting people in groups. We need to provide scaffolding about how to effectively work in a team like how to check in with each other and provide feedback.” I could not agree more and think that guidance on working in groups that incorporates feedback and willingness to make changes for future iterations of a course should be driven by more MLIS professors.

I often wonder if I am the group member people are annoyed with and wish would stop asking questions or pinging the rest of the group in a team chat. I try not to “take over” a project but it is also difficult for me to let a due date approach and wait for others to get things started. After many group projects, I tend to take somewhat of a leadership role in the group and I have learned to be okay with that. If my group members are annoyed with me, none have ever said so….to me personally anyways! So, a final tip is to be who you are while working in a group and let others be who they are too and hopefully your group will bring a good balance of personalities and work styles that will result in an end product that will be better than any one of you could have done individually. Go Team!

What are your group work success stories (or horror stories) and advice for survival?

By Erika Whinihan, third year online MLIS student, Information School, University of Washington (erikaw9@uw.edu)

2 replies

  1. Yes! I think about this group work conundrum often – am I annoying for being the person to reach out first? Am I doing it too soon? Am I unfairly stressing people out by being so eager? Your article makes me feel a little better 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Totally Melissa! I’m definitely “that” group member so I’m glad to know I’m not the only one either. I think also once you get to my age you just want to get your shit done and you don’t care what people think of you anymore. Or maybe that is being in my 3rd year of grad school!

    Liked by 1 person

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