One of the main skills I’ve always felt I lacked was the ability to work in a team. My past academic life and extracurricular activities just happened to be quite singular affairs. I was either nestled in a library cocoon translating Latin, or I was galumphing round a cross country course, and trust me, when you’re as bad at running as I was, you spend an awful lot of the race by yourself.
So I greeted with some trepidation the news that the next few months on the Squared course was to be spent on a group project. The extra challenge will be that as the course is online, so is the group. We will have to get to know each other and form a strong team just by using the internet. Therefore, I decided to brush up on the top tips for group work, and here’s what I found:
First thing’s first, make sure you’ve all introduced yourselves
The act of chatting about neutral territory (yourself) starts the bonding process necessary for goodwill and teamwork. It will also help you to learn other people’s strengths and weaknesses and how to apply them to the task. Even if you only have a short time to do the project, insist that everyone introduces themselves.
This also has the added benefit in that it encourages other members to talk. It helps them break the ice and know their voice will be listened to. On the other end of the scale it will stop any overconfident member getting the bit between their teeth as they will be forced to pause and listen.
People often think that a good team is one that is productive, working to a plan and not shilly shallying around. It is impossible to get all those cogs working however without proper oiling and maintenance. Social chatter isn’t a waste at the start of the meeting, it puts everyone in a good mood and suggests that their contentment is something which is important to you. This goodwill will be helpful later when you’re trying to persuade them to do something.
This all ties in to how you should act in groups. The great Maya Angelou is quoted as saying that people will forget what you said and did, but never how you made them feel. So ask yourself how your words are making people feel. If you are asking them to do something, it should be in a way which makes them feel valued, helpful and positive, not put-upon, disrespected or bullied.
Likewise, you may have just invented the best thing ever, but if you interrupted someone to say it, that’s what they’ll remember.
All problems are down to miscommunication
From the start you must establish accountability. The shirker might be evading their responsibilities because they assume that it’s not a big problem and everything will be fine if they just stare at drying paint instead. Give them set deadlines and put everything in emails so in the future you can refer to what you said. If a member is slacking, ask yourself: did you really state what you needed? Or just hint?
With over-active team mates you should do a similar thing, thereby clearly delineating not only what is expected of them, but also what someone else will definitely be removing from their plate.
Finally, influence the group to do what you want. You will have laid the groundwork by forming strong bonds – people are more influenced by people they like. Now to build on that, you need to give them control. If you want someone to do something you want, give them a choice. For example, if you want them to fill in a spreadsheet you can give them the option of doing it in their own time, or during group time. Or, if you need them to agree to your business idea, ask them if they want to take control of the marketing or strategy.
By giving them a sense of control they won’t feel like they’re being bullied into doing something they don’t want to do, even if they’re doing your idea.
So remember, the mantra of group work is that molasses catch a great deal more flies than vinegar.