One of the worst projects I ever worked on was in my sophomore year of high school. It was in Spanish III, an intermediate/advanced course. The project was to write a script, entirely in Spanish, that described different outdoor parks and the animals and plants contained in each one, and then make a video with images and a voiceover of our script. It was the huge end-of-the-year project for my class – it counted for 20% of our final grade. My peers and I were assigned it a month before it was due, which was plenty of time to plan and complete it. Our teacher even let us choose our own partners – naturally, I paired up with a friend.
What made this project so terrible wasn’t the assignment itself, or the grade I received at the end. It was my partner. From the very beginning, she was completely useless – it was like I was trying to cross the finish line with a deadweight attached to my ankles. What should’ve been a slightly challenging project became an absolute nightmare that included sleepless nights, several breakdowns, tears, and a general increase in day-to-day stress levels.
When my partner and I got the assignment, I immediately made a Google Doc so we could pool our knowledge and work on the project independently while still having access to what the other one was doing. We began by brainstorming, which went well. By the end of the first day we had enough material to write our script.
We agreed to meet the next day to start creating an outline, but she didn’t show up. When I asked her where she was, she responded that she had a prior commitment and couldn’t make it. I ended up creating the entire outline by myself.
For next meeting we scheduled, this time to begin writing the first section of the script, she was late, and spent the entire time doing anything but working on our script. Once again, I ended up doing all of it. At the end of that meeting, we both agreed that we would each write one of the remaining two sections, meet again to look over what the other had done, then start the editing/revising process.
As the date of our third meeting drew closer, I grew anxious because I noticed my partner hadn’t added anything to our Google Doc. I began to remind my partner constantly, both in person and through emails, but she always brushed me off, saying that she was going to get around to it. Finally, the day of our third meeting arrived, and she still hadn’t done her share of the work. She showed up to our meeting, but instead of helping me, she spent the entire time on the phone. I cut the meeting short and went home to finish the entire script – which took me three hours to do since I had to double-check grammar and vocabulary constantly.
By the time the script the was complete, there were two weeks left until the due date. I sent an email to my partner and asked her to start gathering pictures that we could use for our video. She never responded, but I went ahead and scheduled another meeting where we could start work on the video. She didn’t show up again. Forging ahead, I gathered all the pictures we would use and began to organize them in the order we would show them in our video. I met up with my partner in class and told her that the only thing left for us to do was to record us reading our script. We set a time and a place for us to do so.
She arrived that time, and I showed her what she had to say and recorded it. At this point, I had given up any sort of hope that she was going to help me finish this project so I told her that I would take care of everything else. Within a week, I managed to create a video that followed the guidelines of our project rubric. We turned our project in and got a 95, but I was exhausted by the end of it. I went into this enormous project expecting to do 50% of the work and ended up doing 95% of the work, which naturally took a toll on me.
There was no technical reason why our group collaboration shouldn’t have been successful. My partner and I employed all three methods of collaboration during our project, which normally would have been effective. We brainstormed, wrote, and recorded our voiceover face-to-face, used the divided method to write and gather pictures, and employed the layered method when editing/revising the script – all which were suited for the type of project this was. Both of us had constant availability to the whole of our project through the Google Doc, and there was plenty of communication both in person and through email with constant reminders of what had to get done. We made decisions together to meet at regular intervals in order to update each other on what we had done, and set specific deadlines for when we wanted certain sections of the project to be completed. Technically, with all of those things combined, this project should have been completed in an efficient and stress-free manner.
The difficulties of this assignment came directly from my partner. From the very beginning, she was unwilling to put in the same amount of work and effort that I was. At the end, I eventually just took over the project and cut her out of it because I knew she wasn’t going to follow up on what she said she was going to do.
In hindsight, completely taking over the project wasn’t the best thing to do. After the first couple of times my partner missed deadlines and meetings, I should have gone to our instructor and explained to her the issue. I should have pursued a meeting between my, my partner, and our instructor to see if there could be some sort of resolution about work load and final grades (if my partner was going to put in less work, would she be alright with getting a lower grade? etc.).
Our project, overall, was successful in meeting the objectives of the assignment rubric, and we both received a satisfactory grade, but it was one of the most stressful, frustrating, and time-consuming projects I have ever completed. It was also impacted the friendship I had with my partner – we never again worked together on any sort of project, and gradually drifted apart.
In the future, to avoid situations like the one previously mentioned, it would be beneficial to implement certain strategies. At the beginning of a group project, or any group collaboration, two documents should be created: a team charter and a task schedule. The purpose of the team charter is to outline the broad/end goals of the group. This allows every group member to know what is expected of them in order to achieve those goals, and uncovers how much work/commitment each person is able to put in. On the other hand, the task schedule should be incredibly detailed, with deadlines, specific tasks, individual responsibilities, and time to brainstorm and revise so that there is no confusion about who needs to complete what by what date. Having something that maps out the group’s progress is extremely beneficial – it keeps the group on schedule, encourages slackers, prevents procrastination, and eliminates duplicate effort.
Another element to include when working in groups are meeting minutes. These are notes that help the group keep track of their progress by including meeting attendance, the decisions made, things to be done, and the next steps the group needs to take in completing their goals. Having meeting minutes allows groups to save time, avoid forgetting important details, and pick up exactly where the group left off.
It is also important to develop a culture among the group that is both diverse and encouraging of constructive feedback. Teams that are composed of people who think differently are more likely to be creative when problem-solving, and also prepares people for an increasingly-diverse workplace (as our cultural becomes more global, it becomes necessary for people to be able to work alongside and understand those of different background). In addition to having a diverse group, it is advantageous to build an environment that is welcoming of feedback. Without constructive conflict, and without discussing the pros and cons of different solutions, a group is at the disadvantage. Feedback provides the opportunity to expose flaws and potential problems that will lead to a final result that has been drastically improved.
While all of the previously listed strategies can lead to a successful group project, one has to keep in mind the personal styles of group members who will be contributing to the project.
For example, using the self-assessment tests in the book Team Writing, my discussion style is Highly Considerate, my presentation style is Self-Deprecating, and my problem-solving style is Holistic. Each of these qualities has an impact on how I contribute and lead in group projects.
In group projects, my Highly Considerate discussion style is ideal for brainstorming and editing situations. Using this style ensures that everyone will have the opportunity to voice their thoughts on the project without getting immediately shut down or rejected. Often times, I can be found drawing the quieter members out of their shells and gently cajoling them into speaking (allowing for everyone to supply their insight), or nodding/making sounds of verbal consent when someone is talking. These techniques I employ are valuable because they allow each group member to contribute directly to the project. Having someone with a Highly Considerate style is the most practical choice for leading a discussion because they are able to balance out the contribution level of each group member.
My presentation style is Self-Deprecating, which means I tend to display modesty about my abilities and am more likely to talk about my shortcomings. When working in groups, this quality is a disadvantage. It negatively impacts the group by taking attention off of the problem itself and shifting it towards the person and their abilities, which in turn causes group members to doubt a member’s capability to even contribute to the project. In order to prevent this from happening, one needs to work diligently, do the best job they are capable of doing with the skills they possess, and ask for help when needed. When working in a group with someone who has this presentation style, I would recommend keeping a close eye on them and regularly checking up on them. If needed, offer support and assistance to help them finish their work.
Lastly, my problem-solving style is Holistic. This suggests that I consider things as a whole, in a big-picture sense, and refrain from acting until a problem is completely understood. In group projects, we Holistic-style problem-solvers are more beneficial at the beginning. At this stage, Holistic problem-solvers are able to plan how a group should proceed in order to get the best possible result. The best thing to do with these people is to simply let them work out the procedural details of the projects and then, as problems arise, let them solve them. This style is highly beneficial to producing quality work because it takes the time to fully understand how to produce results that overcome specific issues.
When working in a group on any sort of project, it is best to organize the group members so that the people who are best suited to do certain tasks are assigned those tasks. Allocate people where they will be able to thrive. For example, put those with the Highly Considerate discussion style in situations where they can mediate conversations, and those with Holistic problem-solving skills where they can fully analyze problems in order to solve them. In group projects, it is important to play people according to what their strengths are in order to get the best possible end result.
Wolfe, Joanna. Team Writing: A Guide to Working in Groups. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010.