Group projects are easy when you have a solid core of people who all contribute to the project, or when the project is small enough that one or two decent people can do it all even if most of the group is useless. But what do you do when you've got a huge project and some clear underperfomers to contend with?
Read my blog, that's what. I'm here to help. Here's 13 guidelines for surviving a group project when it's all on your head to do a good job.
- Exchange contact information. This includes specifying a preferred method of contact (likely email) and an expectation of how soon responses will be given. Make sure there is a penalty (most group projects have a peer evaluation component) for late responses to queries. A good rule of thumb is to forfeit 2% the grade if a group member does not respond within two business days.
- Divide up the project by tasks, not pages. Make sure that "writing the report" is its own task, unless the report is so long that each section should be written individually. If you divide up a report by pages, it doesn't flow well and sounds like it was made by many different people writing in many different styles.
- Hand in hand with point 2, don't worry about being exactly fair in the division of labour. Maybe someone has to do a bit more, but you'll have a better project if people (or maybe a smaller team of 2 or 3 people) handle a specific area. One area might be more work than the other, but it's better to have a little unfairness and a solid product than a poorer project that had the labour divided exactly equal among group members.
- Set up expectations for deadlines, as well as the marks lost if those are missed.
- Once you've identified underperfomers, focus them like a laser beam on whatever you hate to do. I hate market research, so I tried to focus my Marketing group on getting that done for me. I still had to do some (after all, they are underperformers) but it took the pressure off where I wanted it off the most.
- Set up collaboration tools. Especially Word's "track changes" feature. If multiple people are editing a report (and they should, even if one person wrote it), then you can easily have four or five version of the thing floating around. Compiling that can be a nightmare. So at the minimum, track changes. At best, slap the report (or lab, or database, or whatever) on a server like Google docs and allow for multi-person edits to the same document.
- Don't get mad; shame people. I find it more effective to go to someone who hasn't been pulling their weight with some of their work already done and a request that they finish it.
- Unless someone is a total slacker, it's best to not fight very much about lost marks due to work quality. If it's measurable (such as not responding to e-mails or missing deadlines), then by all means dock them marks, but even then it's better not to get into a war over it. All you'll do is gain an enemy, and you won't have what you really want: sleep, and that person's part of the project done.
- Don't be afraid to take a leadership position, especially if you're doing all the work anyways. Some people aren't really underperformers, they just need someone to tell them exactly what to do. If they are legitimately a bunch of slackers, then you're probably going to be up until 2 am finishing the stupid project anyways, and that makes your word law.
- If you do take a leadership position, always explain why you think your ideas are best. Accept criticism. Just because someone is an underperformer doesn't mean they don't have good ideas. If any arise, don't be too prideful to use them.
- For the love of God, don't do everything yourself. Just because you're surrounded by slackers doesn't mean you can't use their stuff. Keep it as a base, and shore it up with the grammer/research/wording/effort it requires to shine.
- Have face-to-face meetings as often as you need. If it has to be at 6 pm on a Saturday, do it. You often can't replicate that input over email.
- Make sure meetings are on task. Establish a rotating chair for the meeting, and make it that persons job to set the agenda and keep things on task. Everyone has better things to do than meetings, so keep them short, sweet and to the point.
Finally, I should stress that you should still be a team player throughout all of this. Never criticize people, just their actions (i.e. do not say "you're an idiot". Instead say "I don't think this section has been properly cited/researched/whatever", and then say why you think that.) Remember, the goal here is not to do everything yourself, but to get as much out of your underperforming group so you don't have to kill yourself doing everything to make the deadline. And finally, remember that not all groups are populated by slackers, and that people do have other things going on in their lives than the project -- so take that into consideration before you give into the urge to blow up at them.