Let’s face it — bachelor’s degree group projects aren’t every college student’s cup of tea! Along with public speaking, group work can strike fear into your heart, and that’s why you’re reading this article.
But we must also say that participating in group projects brings numerous benefits for college students, particularly in the acquisition of skills considered crucial in the professional world. A National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) Job Outlook report showed that the ability to work in a team is among the most sought-after skills employers want. The rest includes communication skills, problem-solving skills, and leadership skills . Participation in group projects also develops these skills.
For college students pursuing their bachelor’s degree, collaborative learning through group projects also provides them with opportunities for positive group experiences. In turn, these contribute to improved student learning and retention, socialization, and overall college success!
Strategies for Successful Collaboration in Group Projects
Every group is different, and so are their assignments, dynamics and expectations. Thus, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for successful group collaboration. However, we guarantee that the following are the most effective group work strategies that college students can adopt during academic-related group projects. Plus, these strategies can also be used for non-academic group activities, such as team sports and fieldwork.
Clearly Define the Roles and Responsibilities
By making clear definitions of each member’s roles and responsibilities in the group, every member can assume responsibility and accountability, understand their contributions, and perform according to expectations. Assign roles to members based on their skills, strengths, and resources. Name the group leader, research lead, and creative lead.
Every member should also have a say in the roles and responsibilities assigned to them and have the right to refuse their role or recommend themselves for it. But once the roles and responsibilities have been assigned and accepted, then the members should deliver. We suggest putting these in writing, too, such as in a project charter or minutes of meetings.
Promote Responsibility and Accountability
You and your group mates must have a sense of responsibility for the success of the group project and a sense of accountability for your actions related to it. Based on your project charter, every member must deliver on their assigned tasks within the timeframes agreed upon.
Here are a few tips in this regard:
- Set clear and fair expectations.
- Make regular check-ins to monitor the members’ progress in their assigned tasks and address any challenges.
- Let the members make decisions about their tasks, which will encourage a sense of ownership for the group project.
- Promote collaborations among members by encouraging them to support, assist and motivate one another.
Establish Clear Communication Channels
Effective communication is a bedrock of group project success in bachelor’s programs! You and your group mates must communicate well from start to finish in your group project, or else nothing can get done.
- Select and set up your group’s communication platform, such as Microsoft Teams, Slack or GroupMe.
- Create specific channels for different major aspects of the group project, if necessary, to decrease clutter and increase focus. Examples include project updates, general information, and informal chats.
- Agree on the group’s communication norms, such as response time for urgent and non-urgent messages, channels to use, and manner of addressing people and challenges (i.e., respectful).
Keep in mind that establishing effective communication among group members is always a work in progress. It’s best to seek to understand first instead of letting matters get out of hand, whether in face-to-face or online interactions.
Encourage Open Communication
Successful group collaborations in college also require open communication between members, although it’s easier said than done for mere acquaintances. Keep these tips in mind when encouraging open communication, and it should be less of an issue.
- Lead by example. Even if you aren’t the group leader, you can demonstrate active listening, sharing your ideas and concerns, and accepting constructive feedback. Your group mates will likely follow suit.
- Build trust among members. Allow yourself and your group mates to be transparent and truthful about their issues regarding the group project instead of shutting them down early. Create safe spaces during in-person and online interactions, too.
- Encourage members to give, acknowledge and act on constructive feedback. But make it clear that personal attacks will not be accepted.
While group projects have a short-term nature that isn’t conducive to building deep connections between you and your group mates, the lessons in open communication you learned in each group will be valuable in future group projects.
Establish Group Norms
Every group has its specific team dynamic because of the uniqueness of the individuals in it. As such, you and your group mates should ideally establish group norms if you’re a new group or if it’s a new project.
The group norms are the ground rules that members are expected to follow in their interactions with each other, in their performance of their assigned roles, and in their resolution of conflicts. The more these ground rules are understood, accepted and adopted, the better your group project can be!
A few examples:
- Be respectful of each other’s views, opinions and ideas through active listening.
- Be mindful of the confidentiality of information shared among members.
- Be punctual and prepared for meetings and other scheduled activities.
- Be open to constructive feedback.
Create a Project Timeline
You and your group mates must create and follow a project timeline to ensure that you will meet the deadlines for your group project. Your group should also evaluate and update the milestones in your project timeline based on your progress and the challenges ahead.
Here are the basic steps when creating a group project timeline:
- Define the project’s scope, including its objectives, milestones and deliverables, deadlines and constraints.
- Break down the objectives into smaller tasks, determine the order of task completion, and estimate the duration for each task.
- Assign the responsibility for the performance of tasks, identify the resources at their disposal, and agree on their targets.
Your project timeline can be created using a project management tool that will also be useful in monitoring progress, communicating updates, and addressing issues. College students find that Trello, Asana and Todoist are great project management tools since these are easy to use yet provide plenty of useful features.
Use Technology to Your Group’s Advantage
Of course, there’s nothing like human connection when it comes to successful collaborations in college group projects! However, the use of technology facilitates effective collaboration and communication, too. You and your group mates should then be open to technology during the entirety of your group project.
Aside from the apps mentioned above, we recommend Google Workspace, GitHub and Notion. Every app has its specific uses, so you should discuss them with your group mates.
Be Flexible and Adaptable
Things happen that even the best planning cannot foresee or prevent! You and your group mates must then agree to roll with the punches but also to adapt your strategies due to changing conditions surrounding your group project. There’s no need to change the project’s goals and timeline completely, but being flexible in your strategies will lead to success.
Showcase Individual Contributions
While your professor will likely grade your group project as a whole, your contributions should also be emphasized! You want your group mates to be recognized for their contributions, which will boost their morale and encourage them to participate more actively. Besides, your professor may ask for information about each of your group mate’s performance and you want to be prepared.
You can achieve it by:
- Keeping detailed logs of assigned tasks and their delivery
- Using a feedback mechanism
- Acknowledging the contributions of group members in front of the group
Just being generous with your praise can go a long way toward motivating your group mates to do their best, too.
Seek Help When Needed
But don’t be afraid to ask for assistance and support when the challenges coming your way during a group project become overwhelming! Your professors and their teaching assistants will be ready to help.
Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Team Dynamics
But even with best practices in adopting these effective strategies in navigating group work in college, it’s likely that there will be challenging situations within your group! The difficult team dynamics can be attributed to a single major cause — every single one of your group mates is a unique individual. Your differences in personality, perspectives and personal aspirations will influence your interactions during group work — and it isn’t always on the positive side.
Fortunately, you can adopt these dos and don’ts for dealing with conflict and other group-related issues.
- Don’t be quick to judge. Instead, understand the root causes of difficult behaviors and approach the issue with empathy.
- Do provide constructive feedback. Focus on the problematic behavior and its impact on your team instead of engaging in personal attacks.
- Don’t shame the erring group mate in front of others! Instead, address the problematic behavior privately.
- Do focus on finding the best solutions for the issues at hand. Encouraged members to participate in the problem-solving discussions.
- Don’t be the hero when you do not have the answers. Seek third-party intervention if needed. Ask your professor for help.
Dealing with conflict and other issues in group projects can be challenging. You can, however, overcome them by being empathetic, respectful and open to communication — the hallmarks of being a good leader.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you start a group project?
- Understand the assignment and its requirements, including deliverables, deadline and grading criteria.
- Know your group members. Your professor may assign the groupings, or you may be allowed to choose your members.
- Conduct the initial meeting. You must establish the group’s communication channels, define the members’ roles and responsibilities, create a timeline, and establish the ground rules.
- Put the agreement in writing. You and your group mates can then establish accountability for performance in the future.
How to do a group research project?
You must first select your group members, agree on your roles and responsibilities, and create a project timeline. Basically, you’re making a research paper but with collaboration among your group members.
How do you group students for group projects?
The common methods in grouping students are:
- Randomly assign students.
- Allow students to choose their members.
- Assign students based on specific factors, such as skills, abilities and strengths.
- Rotate group assignments.
How do you lead a school group project?
Your leadership skills come into play when leading a school group project, including:
- Adaptability and flexibility
- Leadership by example
What are the steps for making a group research project?
You will also follow the steps for starting a group project but with a research paper as your specific goal. Your initial meeting must also include the following tasks besides the ones mentioned above:
- Select your research topic and thesis.
- Define the objectives and scope of the research project.
- Create the outline.
- Perform the research phase, including collection of data, literature review, and surveys.
- Organize the collected data.
- Write the research paper, edit and proofread, and review the reliability of the information presented.
- Create the presentation materials, if required.
- Finalize the research paper and submit it according to instructions.
- Reflect on the lessons learned during the group work.
National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)
Carnegie Mellon University