By Dr. Robert Gordon, CPC  |  06/01/2023

A group project - with many group members - requires weekly meetings and group work. Assign roles, tasks, and contribute to stay on task, on track and focus.

Team projects at school can be challenging, of course, but you can navigate a group project successfully with the right approach and mindset. With the right strategy, you can survive group projects.

As both a student and a professor, I've had a lot of experience with group projects and how to bring together different types of group members to complete an assignment. With some planning and effort, students can not only survive a group project, but also have a great learning experience (and hopefully a good grade!).

Tips to Structure a Strong Group Project

Surviving group projects starts with planning and structure. Here are a few tips:

Tip #1: Effective Communications Within the Group

At your initial group meeting, discuss effective communication which includes exchanging phone numbers and setting up group communication channels. Schedule regular check-ins, and encourage transparency. Use tools like Microsoft Teams ®for tracking deadlines, meeting times, and project progress.

Tip #2: Set Realistic Expectations

Define the group's expectations, including deadlines, workloads, and project goals. Assign tasks based on each member's strengths, to establish clear roles and responsibilities, ensuring workload is shared, and preventing overloading of few members. Ideally, in groups, tasks should be assigned based on each member's strengths and skills, and team members should work together on group projects to brainstorm ideas and solve problems.

Tip #3: Stay Positive

Maintain a positive attitude, focusing on progress and encouraging collaboration. Be willing to adapt your approach, be open to feedback, and foster constructive criticism.

Tip #4: Highlight the Importance of the Project to the Group

Make your group understand the significance of the project and its impact on the final grade. Remind them of the consequences of poor performance, such as having to retake the class.

Tip #5: Celebrate the Team’s Progress

For large or complex group projects, tasks, or jobs, you might want to create celebrations that happen at various milestones in the assignment. It's not all work; there should be some "play" too. Celebrating progress along the way will keep the group motivated and engaged, as well as focused on the end goal.

Tip #6: Rally People Toward Completing the Work

Rallying everyone around a team assignment can be challenging, but getting everyone on board and working together towards a common goal is possible. With the right approach, you can increase your chances of success.

Dealing with Uncooperative Team Members During Group Projects

Group projects can occasionally involve dealing with negative or non-contributing team members. It's crucial to maintain a positive work environment in such cases, understanding the backstory behind their negativity. The reality may be that the person is having a bad time at their day job, or something in their personal life might be affecting them. Here are some strategies to that will benefit the group in these situations:

Tip #1: Address the Negative Behavior

Confront negative behavior directly, explaining its effect on the person, the team and the project. Beware of members disguising negativity as "devil's advocacy."

Tip #2: Identify the Cause of the Behavior

Negative behavior may stem from stress or personal life issues. Active listening can help identify the cause, offering a better chance at resolution.

Tip #3: Set Clear Boundaries

If negativity becomes toxic, set clear expectations about acceptable behavior and potential consequences of its continuation.

Tip #4: Maintain a Positive Attitude

Keeping a positive attitude is essential when dealing with negative team members in group projects, preventing a counterproductive environment.

Tip #5: Provide Support

Supporting a negative group member can alleviate their negativity. Discussing the situation often suffices, but additional mentoring or counseling may be necessary. Remember the University offers 24/7 support for students through Uwill®.

How to Deal with People on Team Who Are Non-Contributors

Addressing non-contributors in team projects promptly is crucial for success. Non-contributors negatively impacts all the work on team, making project completion more challenging. Here's how to handle non-contributors effectively.

Tip #1: Identify the Cause Quickly

Quickly identify the cause of non-contribution. Reasons may include unclear roles, lack of confidence, or overwhelming responsibilities.

Tip #2: Set Goals and Put Them in Writing

Set clear goals and document them, for example, using emails or digital documents like Word or Google docs. Clear, written expectations prevent non-contributors from claiming misunderstanding or producing sub-standard work.

Tip #3: Address the Problem

If non-contribution persists, directly address the issue. Let the group member know how their behavior affects the team and the project. Ask for their input, monitor progress, and provide feedback on contributions. If difficulties persist, involve the professor. Make sure you've documented the non-contributor's behavior as proof of their lack of contribution.

How to Deal with People on a Team Who Are a Nuisance

Nuisance team members, while not as damaging as negative contributors, can still disrupt team dynamics - and even create conflict - with their occasional problematic behavior. Here's how to manage such situations and conflicts effectively.

Tip #1: Identify and Address the Behavior

While these team members aren't always problematic, their disrespectful actions can interfere with the process and team cohesiveness and violate codes of conduct. Warn them about the potential repercussions if such behavior continues, providing an opportunity for them to apologize and adjust their actions. Their behavior can hinder the success of group projects and should not be overlooked.

Tip #2: Set Boundaries

While occasional misbehavior can be perceived as a mistake, recurring issues denote a pattern that needs intervention. It's important to establish what is unacceptable and the consequences for continued misbehavior. No one prefers working with disrespectful or dishonest team members.

Tip #3: Provide Feedback

Giving constructive feedback on a person's offensive behavior can guide them towards understanding its impact and changing their ways. Encourage them to empathize, asking how they'd feel experiencing disrespectful behavior themselves. Their contributions are valuable and should be recognized as such.

Tip #4: Document the Behavior

Should the nuisance persist, document their behavior and the steps taken to address it. If the situation worsens, it may need to be escalated. Inform your instructor and University staff if necessary, as disruptive behavior patterns should be reported.

Managing negative individuals and nuisance team members in college, work, or even private groups requires patience, empathy, and collaboration. By setting clear expectations, providing guidance, ideas, staying on point, encouraging discussion about the process, setting goals, monitoring progress, promoting teamwork, and addressing the occasional challenge, you will realize that team members often become more engaged in group projects.

About the Author
Dr. Robert Gordon, CPC
Dr. Robert Gordon, CPC, is a faculty member of the Reverse Logistics Management and Government Contracting and Acquisition programs at the University. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from the University of California, Los Angeles; a master's degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix; and a doctoral degree in management from the University of Phoenix. Dr. Gordon also holds graduate certificates in information technology project management, information technology security and logistics management from American Public University.

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