If you study business, or have ever completed a project management course, one word you will come across often is synergy. The principle of synergy states:
The whole is greater than the sum of all its parts.
In other words, a team is more productive than the collective effort of individual workers. Teams achieve this by eliminating overlapping tasks, and sharing resources.
Unfortunately for millions of students, synergy is hardly ever realized when working on group projects. From personality clashes, to social loafers, to differences of opinion, group-work can be one of the most stressful things you have to deal with in college.
So how do you survive working with people — and scoring an A in the process? Check out our recommendations below.
Appoint a Good Leader
More often than not, the smartest or the most extroverted person will quickly pipe up to volunteer themselves as leaders. This might seem like a great idea at first, but in the long run, you may find that neither of these people has what it takes to lead the group to success.
When appointing a group leader, the ideal choice is the most organized person in the group. This is the person who will have the natural skill sets necessary to manage the smooth process of fitting multiple pieces of the puzzle together.
The leader should also be the person comfortable with making the tough decisions for the better of the group. This might mean telling a group member to redo their section, or confronting an uncooperative member of the team.
Have Clear Objectives
One of the main reasons students don’t do well on projects is that they don’t pay close enough attention to the objectives provided by their lecturers.
Generally speaking, every question or issue posed by the lecturer should be treated as a separate section. Whether that section is a paragraph or 15 pages will depend on the word count and the marks allocated. Once the main objectives have been identified, then they should be allocated to the group members.
Letting team mates choose the sections they want to work on, on a first-come-first-serve basis worked best for me. The best way to do this is by email, so you have a written record of who chose what and who was first.
Choose a Style
Most college professors will provide a format that you must use for the project. This is usually either MLA or APA. Be sure to check the project for the format. If one is not provided, then ask the teacher which one they prefer.
APA has many different versions, so remember to ask exactly which one they are looking for. If the lecturer doesn’t specify then ensure all team mates are using the same formatting style.
Why is this important? Have you ever tried to copy and paste information from Word documents where everyone used a different formatting style? It can take a long time to re-format, and often creates errors in the document.
Make your life easy. Agree on one format.
The mistake a lot of groups make is to wait until the very last second to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. This is a terrible idea. The project most likely to obtain an A-grade is the final draft that was preceded by at least two other drafts.
In college, my team mates’ first draft was often just a sentence or paragraph via email. This was just to let me know how they interpreted the question they were given, and how they planned on answering it. My job was to look at all 5 or more submissions from each team mate and ensure we were all in agreement, and on the same page.
Once this was verified, I set a deadline for the second draft. The second draft was comprised of submissions as close to their final draft as they could make it. I would then provide feedback, or give my approval. Once this was provided to everyone, it was time to submit what was hopefully their final draft to me.
Sounds like a lot of work. But in the weeks leading up to the deadline, we would be playing video games in the library, while other students ran around trying to finish the work, last-minute.
Edit. Edit. Edit.
The mere collection of final drafts submitted by each individual member should never be considered the final project. The leader of the group, or whoever has strong editing and formatting skills, should read through the document. It’s important to edit, fact-check, and format it properly.
This ensures that the document is error-free, and reduces the likelihood of losing marks for things like grammar, or just confusing the heck out of your teacher with rambling sentences. Ensure there are headings, a table of contents, a references page, and a cover sheet.
Many lecturers also appreciate a task sheet at the end of the project to detail who was responsible for what. It’s considered acceptable to include tasks like:
- Project Management
- Editing and formatting
Your lecturer will appreciate a properly edited, error-free project, and will usually reward you for that attention to detail with a higher grade than you would otherwise have received.
In my first 2 years of university, I dreaded group assignments. I would have straight A’s all semester, only to get a B or C for a final project. In my final 2 years of university, I decided to take charge, and managed my group by the principles above.
The end result? We never submitted a late assignment, and were sometimes finished months before a project was due. Naturally, our end-of-semester experience was a lot less stressful, compared to our classmates.
We never received less than an A-, and were often audited by the board for frequently topping the curve with the best final project grades. Today, many of those projects are being used as samples at the university.
If we could do it — so can you.
About the Author
Alexis Chateau is the Founder of College Mate and Managing Director at Alexis Chateau PR. She is an activist, writer, and explorer. Follow her stories of trial and triumph at www.alexischateau.com.