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How to tackle group projects at university

27 April 2022

There are many different formats of assessment at university, varying within each academic programme, and one of the most impactful factors in determining how you approach an assignment is whether it is designed to be tackled by you alone, or in a group with other students. Group projects can come in a plethora of forms, though are predominantly either essays (or similar papers), presentations, or projects where you have to design or create a physical entity as your submission. Though I will cover the varying approaches to these types of work briefly, my primary focus here will be to highlight the key elements in working effectively as a team with other university students.

Autocracy, democracy or monarchy; a title for a seminar I had on Greek poleis and also the three approaches to running a group project. Spoiler, just as in real life there are advantages and disadvantages to each and the best result in this circumstance comes with a combination of them. It is important to pick a group leader or leaders, and even if this is not stated in name, you will quickly discover that some people will naturally take charge more than others. The issue of not having someone to coordinate members and assign tasks is that a lot of time and effort can be wasted when two members do the same thing, or more dangerously, members are sitting around not knowing what to do until the last minute. Choosing the person with the best negotiating/people management skills to coordinate the group’s efforts is essential. This monarchical approach can run the risk of becoming tyrannical, and so it is important for members to put forward their points of view and input rather than letting one person come up with all the ideas. You’ll find that you work far more enthusiastically on a project in which you are interested, and you almost always develop the best results when bouncing ideas of one another and letting them evolve.

All members must have a general understanding of the project and what the group’s goals and approach to the task are. Should individuals not fully understand this, then presentation day will come around and you’ll find that you have answered three separate things to the same question. It should be understood that group members almost never contribute exactly the same amount to the end result, but so long as everyone does their bit then there is no need for concern. In an ideal world, if you are the group leader for one project and end up spending more time than others on that assessment, then you will be able to take a backseat role in a subsequent assignment. Some assessments will be better suited to your skillsets, and in other cases different group members will be more qualified to tackle each task. Ultimately, the skill in tackling group projects is in coordinating the inputs and workloads of each member so that they are all invested due to their shared involvement in the evolution of the initial ideas and are aware of the work that they and others should be doing at all times.