Work in Groups and be a STAR

by mlarents

As the semester draws to a close, and I’m beginning to feel reflective, I think it’s safe to say we’ve been inundated with group work these last few months.  We’ve written papers together, surveyed unsuspecting students, co-taught lessons, designed posters with one another, made awkward parody videos, and all manner of get-to-know-your-cohort-while-collaborating-sort-of-activities.  And you know what?  I sort of like it (please don’t hurt me).  Now now, hear me out.  Though I’ve largely had positive, successful experiences working in groups this semester, that’s not to say it’s been all cupcakes, hearts, and spoonfuls of nutella.  So here’s my guide to creating the academic dream-team and tips on how to not kill one another while working together.

Here’s the thing.  You’re awesome.  You produce good work, you’re always on time, you have the best ideas, and you look good while doing it.  But you know what?  You can always improve.  I know it’s scary working with new people, but try and think of it like this: Woohoo!  New perspective!  New set of strengths!  I am going to get even awesome-r!    And you will.  I am desperately trying to strengthen my writing skills.  Luckily for me, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some pretty DOPE-ASS writers.  Having them critique our work, me getting to see how they articulate a point, it’s all helped me.  Your group members are there to not only support you, but also challenge you.  Use that.  You remember that part about you being awesome?  Well they probably want to learn from you too!  I enjoy public speaking and I’ve gotten to share some pointers with group members.  They’ve improved, and I’ve basked in our shared glory.  That’s just it.  Group work: it’s all about the attitude, my brothers and sisters.  Be scared, but expect a rewarding experience to come out of the whole mess.  I can not stress this enough: having an enthusiastic outlook going into a group dynamic can really influence the entire project.  Put on those positive-pants.

Time changes when you’re working with a group.  We’re all graduate students here, most of us have jobs, some families, others a weird cat or two, we’re busy, I get it.  While it’s all fine and dandy to submit an individual assignment minutes before its due, that shit won’t fly when you’re part of a team.  Set your deadlines from the get-go and make them early.  Everyone should have a voice in the finished product and that’s difficult to do if everyone is submitting their portion five minutes before the entire thing is due.  Individual contributions should be made with ample time for each group member to critique and edit your work.  We work ourselves crazy enough as it is trying to finish things last minute, don’t do this to your group, it’s just rude.

Separate but Equal didn’t work then, it’s not working now.  While it may seem like a genius idea to split up the work evenly and have everyone paste in a single document, it’ll probably just look like word-vomit.  You’re a group, and while finding a singular voice may be a difficult process, seven people yelling in different ways about different things certainly doesn’t constitute a successful group project.  It should go without saying, but work together.  Bounce ideas off one another, meet (whether physically or virtually) to flesh out ideas, put your pride aside for a bit and realize that while you may think your poster needs glow in the dark stickers, your other group members aren’t too fond of the idea.  This thing you’re working on will not survive if you don’t communicate and collaborate with one another.  Do it, you’ll produce something radical, I just know it.

Sometimes people suck.  But you know what?  You’ll get through this assignment and you probably won’t remember whatever happened a year from now.  While you may have some crazy notion that everyone is out to get you, they want to personally sabotage your project as well as the future of your academic career, it’s probably not the case.  Before jumping on the “YOU SUCK AND I HATE YOU” brigade, open up the group to a good ol’ healthy dose of conversation.  Be honest, ask if something is going on.  Why weren’t they at the meeting?  Why does this paragraph sound like an eight year old wrote it?  You have expectations of one another and if someone isn’t meeting them, you are entitled to ask them why.  I hope someone would call me out if I wasn’t pulling my weight.  You have an investment in this project and your future; don’t pout and complain, be proactive, work with the hand you’ve been dealt, and produce the absolute best work you’re capable of.

These are the things that I think are helpful.  How about you?  What advice do you have for working in groups?  Live it, love it, preach it.