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The other students in a professor-assigned group project can seem like a cast of familiar characters. There’s the one who is always too busy to meet, the one who over-commits (and under-delivers), the one who has to be in control or else, and of course the ones who are trying to get by doing as little as they can. And then there’s you. You’re doing your best to get the best grade you can, right?
So how do you handle each of these dynamics?
There are times you’ll find yourself in the driver’s seat on a group project. You get to make the big decisions and set the pace for the project, but this also means you’re probably unofficially managing the other people in your group.
The key to this dynamic is understanding that while you may be unofficially running things, everyone is an equal participant. You need to balance giving direction with listening to everyone’s ideas and genuinely considering other strategies.
If there’s someone else taking the reins on a project, you might want to take a step back. Struggling to be the one in charge of the group is more likely to cause conflict (and a lower grade) than letting another teammate lead the group.
When you’re in the back seat, try focusing on a skill of yours that would be valuable to the project. Good at graphic design? Maybe you should build the PowerPoint. Strong writing skills? Offer to be the one who writes the paper or reworks tough talking points in the presentation.
If you’re in a group where the roles are not well-defined, or no one wants to commit to tasks, it could be time to start assigning pieces of the project. If you’re not comfortable taking charge of the group, try assigning yourself a task you know you’ll enjoy or do well, and asking who on the team can help by doing another part where you’re not as strong. This could help people define their skills and feel more prepared to take on the project.
There’s a fine line between a group member that’s struggling and a group member who isn’t doing their equal share. If someone on your team isn’t pulling their weight in the project, reach out to them. You never know what someone is going through and it could be anything from them not fully understanding the project or expectations to something more personal. If talking to the person and attempting to help them get on track doesn’t work, or the group member is just not contributing, you should reach out to your professor.
But don’t wait until the day before the project is due to say something. First, be sure your group has done their best to work with the person and find a solution on their own. Then, try reaching out to your professor for advice on what to do. Sharing the situation will show that you’re willing to work to fix the issue and aren’t just looking for slack on the project. Ultimately, your grade is your main concern, and if someone in your group is compromising that, it’s up to you to find a solution.
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