Two’s Company, But Three (or More!) Can Definitely Be a Crowd

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BY Nicole Eisenberg > Sophomore > University of Maryland, College Park > Marketing and Finance | Photos by Liz Swezey > Sophomore > Photography > The College of New Jersey

 Have you ever wondered why professors torture you with group work? Turns out “students benefit from practicing real-world skills that they will need for after graduation,” explains Dr. Elsa Sa?nchez, professor of Horticulture at Penn State University. Unfortunately, group work is not as easy as simply following the ol’ playground rules of being nice and sharing. So as you prepare for the real world, familiarize yourself with CM’s revised set of standards for successfully collaborating with three or more collegians.

Choosing the Line Leader

Choosing the overseer is frequently the first problem that groups encounter. Oftentimes, having someone volunteer his/ her leadership can be harder than a kindergartener’s trip to the dentist. If you’re lucky, a leader might develop or take charge naturally, but if there is more than one future UN leader in the group, the result might resemble a paste and sand-throwing duel.

 
Instead, when assigning group projects, professors often want students to, “think in terms of leadership,” rather than leaders, explains Sandor Schuman, program director at the Center for Policy Research at the State University of New York in Albany. Assigning leadership over different aspects of a project, with one person guiding the flow of the group, creates an efficient way to bring a variety of specialties together into one cohesive whole.
 
“In my group, we delegate tasks based on each group member’s strengths,” says Jessica Filderman, a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis. This way, everyone gets to participate. Delegating leadership roles ensures that all parties are equally invested in the project. That way, being overseer does not mean doing more work—it simply means guiding the group in the right direction.
 
Playing Fair
We all know that student, who makes the group experience as difficult as possible by not showing up to meetings, never responding to emails and dishing out excuses like his or her life depends on it. It’s probably the same kid who couldn’t keep his Tamagotchi pet alive. To make everyone’s job easier, this slacker needs to be reeled in and tamed from the very beginning.
 
If the group has tried assigning this member fewer tasks or has offered to hold the meeting in a more convenient spot to no avail, then hold this group member accountable by asking your professor to provide peer evaluations at the close of your group work.
 
Gettysburg Freshman, Kate Forton, has dealt with a frustrating group member before. “… you have to realize that people aren’t going to be compatible or have the same opinions,” she says. Sometimes, this person might just have a different personality than the majority of the group and simply needs to be included in a way that fits his or her individual style.
 
A student’s slacking may stem from low confidence in the material. One solution is to make these team-members responsible for areas with which they are more familiar. Rather then being anxious about meeting expectations, members will feel comfortable as ‘experts’ on the material.
 
Managing Circle Time
Team meetings can be difficult when pooling a group of personalities together. It’s like agreeing on the rules for a game of tag. Ever find your meeting running overtime and getting nowhere? Planning is crucial to keeping your group’s work cohesive. “Know exactly what you want to get accomplished at the meeting, so that you make sure that you do it,” says Filderman. In other words, organization and preparedness are key. Consider writing up an agenda and emailing it out the night before.
 
Schuman agrees. “One of the functions of leadership is to clarify, with the group, the desired outcome of a meeting (its “purpose” and “product”), who is needed to accomplish that purpose (the “people”), and how the group can go about doing its work (the “process”),” he says. When all of these imperative points are clarified, shared expectations can be instilled in the group dynamic. This “enable[s] individuals to participate more effectively because they know what they’re in for, what they can expect to get out of it, and what in particular each person can—and is expected to—contribute,” Schuman explains. In other words, when one kid tags another on the playground and screams, “you’re it,” all parties are well aware of what happens next.
 
Class Notes on Group Work
1. Group work helps you prepare for real world career experiences.
2. Instead of selecting a leader, create multiple leadership positions.
3. Delegate tasks according to team member strengths.
4. Give the slacker less work or request a peer eval.
5. Create an agenda for each meeting.
 
Multiple Group Personalities
In a team setting, naturally you are dealing with a variety of personalities and behaviors from the overachiever to the slacker. For every extreme there are ways to tone it down and become a cooperative team member. Which group personality are you?

 


College Magazine Staff

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