“This will be a group project.”

I hear these words and I nearly always face palm. Then my thoughts race: Why, oh, why, can’t we just do these projects separately? That way I can work at my own pace, using my own ideas, and make sure my work is the best it can be instead of trying to corral the inevitable lazy group member or two in to barely doing their part. That is, if they even do their work at all.

It seems I always end up being the group leader, project compiler, or editor—without fail. I have spent a good deal of my group-working life being annoyed by it. Why should I have to feel like I have to be the most competent, organized person in the group? Why should I shoulder that responsibility the vast majority of the time? Why aren’t there more self-starters and competent wordsmiths among my peers?

Let’s face it: nobody wants to be the group leader. When my teachers in high school asked for groups to assign their leaders, everyone’s eyes darted nervously around the room. Such situations quickly became an anxiety-fueled game of “nose goes,” and I eventually ended up having to put my big girl pants on and say, “I’ll be the group leader.”

But then I became, almost happily, resigned to my fate. If I am a good student and worker, if I get commendations from my professors and supervisors for my competence and organization, then why shouldn’t I lead the group?

Being a Group Leader Has its Benefits

Leadership is a valuable attribute to have, as are the associated characteristics that inevitably follow it. Why not assume your project’s leadership role if you are good at delegating tasks and following up with your group mates to make sure those tasks get done? What’s so scary about answering your group mates’ questions, providing resources, or acting as an intermediary between your group and your professor or supervisor?

Nothing! Because these are exactly the skills that employers are looking for. They are looking for organized, competent, charismatic self-starters with good work ethics.

And that’s exactly why I stopped harrumphing and face palming when professors and supervisors declare a group task. It is just another opportunity to hone skills that I will inevitably need in the workforce. There’s hardly a discipline in which you can work all by your lonesome. You will never escape group work. You can, however, make it easier on yourself.

How to make any group project go more smoothly:

  • Assign a good leader. Assign someone who you think is competent and reliable. If this is you, make sure you are ready for the commitment, because your group mates’ grade or position at work depends on it.
  • Be clear about communication guidelines. When your group forms, be clear about what you expect communications-wise. If a group email is sent, do you want a response within six hours? Twenty-four hours? Set limits to create accountability.
  • Delegate responsibilities right away. Define what needs to be done, what tasks should be handled by which roles, and then assign those roles to your group members. Make sure everyone knows what everyone else’s responsibilities are, so that there is no confusion.
  • Don’t slack off. Don’t submit a rough draft to the team editor that is completely sub-par (read: text lingo, run-on sentences, silly spelling mistakes, etc.). Don’t be that person. No one likes to have to spend more time editing your work than you put in to writing it. It also negatively impacts your authority as a scholar and a professional.

Generally, if these basic guidelines are in place, the group should be a happy one. Don’t slack off simply because you don’t like group work, as you will need these skills in any job. Don’t balk at being the group leader, either. Recognize it as the opportunity that it is to polish your people skills and impress your superiors.

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