Like many people, I have a strong aversion to group projects. I think we’ve all had at least one painful experience with group projects during our academic careers.
Obviously there will be exceptions to the rule, but generally, group projects are dominated by the “get-in-get-out” mentality – split up the work at the beginning, each person completes his or her section independently, put each section together the night before it’s due and present.
This method may come across to professors as effective in the final product, but they could hardly be considered productive in developing an appreciation for collaboration. And speaking broadly, these are still the conceptions of teamwork in the academic sphere that I hold true in my mind. However, my experiences so far in my Winter Term course this year – "Publishing" – have shown me that strong collaboration is difficult, but not impossible.
Our task for the semester has been audacious and, technically speaking, completely nuts: collectively write a digital book as a class within three weeks. With only seven students in the class, myself included, I wanted to believe we could pull it off, but I certainly had my reservations. Over the past two weeks of working on this project, though, I believe I’ve come to learn how true collaboration can be possible and even natural.
Group projects, at their worst, are entirely too focused on division. The problem is, once certain roles have been distributed, there’s often little follow-up. Any problems or concerns a group member might have are often either talked around or completely disregarded.
The problem with many group projects is that people still try to break it down and focus it on the individual. Conversely, strong collaboration still breaks a large project into more basic components, but distributes them to group members based on each member’s interest.
Collaboration at its finest is incremental and involves consistent regrouping to determine the state of progress. The team must regularly decide what has been done, what needs to be done and where there might potentially be problem areas.
The reason this type of collaboration isn’t utilized more is because it takes a lot of planning and effort to pull off. There’s really no room for halfway in this approach – for true success and development, all team members need to be fully invested in making the project not as good as it needs to be, but as good as it can be.
Good collaboration skills, contrary to what you might believe, are extremely important, because they allow us not only to succeed and grow throughout our time in college, but also as we enter our future careers. Although I too remain somewhat bitter over my history with group work, I believe I now have a much greater understanding of how the concept has endured for so long.
Next time you’re assigned a group project and you groan a little, consider first what you can bring to your group and how you can improve your collaboration. You might just change your mind.