By Thomas Broderick
It happens every time: your teacher assigns a group project and puts you with someone who contributes little to nothing. “Oh yeah, just put my name on it.” Lazybones gets full credit for doing zilch. The experience makes you think that group projects should have no part of the modern high school experience.
Yes, group projects as we know them need some tweaks. (There are lots of things teachers can do to ensure that everyone participates, but that’s an article just for them.) At their core, though, group projects matter and can play a valuable role in the learning experience.
If you’ve had a few lousy group projects, don’t stop reading just yet. Let me show you how group project success can have some happy side effects for your present and future selves.
Group Projects Prepare You for Real Life
No matter what you do for a living, your professional success rides on working well with other people. Even I, working from home, always interact with my clients through email and phone calls. Just like at an office, everyone’s success depends on, you guessed it, everyone being on the same page and working together.
Your career might be 8+ years down the road, so here are a few ways that participating in group projects can help you TODAY:
- “Works well with others” is an excellent line that college admission counselors want to see in a recommendation letter. That’s why I put it in the title!
- Group work plays a significant role in extracurricular activities and volunteering.
- Working in groups exposes you to different viewpoints and personality types.
To expand a bit more on that last point, different personality types means that you’ll regularly come across people whose personality types don’t match yours. Though this difference can cause conflict, it’s also a valuable opportunity to build your interpersonal skills.
Group Projects Build Your Interpersonal Skills
Let’s get back to the group member who does nothing. How would you react to this situation? Would you tattle on him, ignore him, try to engage him, or something else entirely? Your first reaction plays a significant role in how that person approaches the rest of the project. Now, don’t blame yourself if that person won’t budge no matter what, but here are some things to do to show your group project meddle and encourage everyone to do their part:
- Ask everyone what part of the project matches their strengths or interests.
- Ask for everyone’s input/advice on how the group should accomplish its goal(s).
- Split into smaller groups. For example, if your group has four people, pair up to divide the project’s responsibilities. That way, no one can ‘fall through the cracks.’
If someone still won’t participate, don’t escalate the situation, but document what each group member contributed (or didn’t) to the final product.
If you’re not a leader, that fine. As long as you’re a team player, you’ve done your part. After all, you still have plenty of time to hone your leadership skills throughout the rest of high school and college.
Before wrapping up, let’s discuss one final piece of the group project puzzle that should help you long after high school graduation.
Group projects require more advanced organizational skills than you might need if you tackled the same project on your own. Although you may consider yourself a master organizer, finding yourself having to track others’ progress and keep up with your own work can challenge even the best students.
There’s an easy way to solve this problem, something that works just as well in the classroom as it will in your future work environment. Imagine your group has a project and that you have three class periods to complete it. At the beginning of the project, have everyone set a goal. Someone in the group writes down each goal. At the end of the period, everyone reports back. Just like before, someone writes down every person’s progress. Some people might have worked ahead, others right on target, and others behind. As you repeat this process for days two and three, you can refer back to these notes to suggest quick and effective solutions:
- Have someone who worked ahead assist someone who’s behind at the beginning of the next class.
- Ask the people who are behind to finish up their daily goal as homework.
More importantly, by keeping track of everyone’s progress, it’s impossible to be blindsided by someone not pulling their weight.
Group projects aren’t perfect, but they teach you plenty of valuable life skills that can both raise your chances of college admission success and prepare you for just about any work environment.