I vaguely remember chilling in an afternoon class, trying to stay awake. My hand steadily sketched out notes as the professor rambled about computer algorithms or something. Then, randomly, the professor charged us to work with a neighbor to examine a problem just scribbled on the board. Sigh. I wasn’t sitting next to a friend. The girl adjacent to me seemed equally as uninterested. Assuming my memory is correct, neither of us choked up words. I at least had the problem written in my notebook—and enough sense to write out part of an answer. Luckily, we were not called upon to present anything.
Why even bring up this memory? Well, I wanted to show a clear example where I did everything wrong in a group setting. As long time acquaintances know, I am a quintessential introvert—talking isn’t my forte. Yet, I don’t bring up this awkward interaction to put down me or my partner. Instead, I instead want to focus on my growth. I got better guys! This essay is an opportunity for you to learn from my past failures, so you don’t make the same mistakes. Let's jump into this.
For one, you can actually be friendly and act like a person. I tended to be passive early in college, expecting others to initiate conversations. Sure, in most group projects, people will talk—a lot. Usually, at least one person will take charge and make sure everyone (who cares) gets a piece of the pie. But this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, the group is distracted or just plain inept. Also, you might have the best ideas, which should be voiced. It will help everyone if you speak up.
Setup a Communication Channel
Please—for the love of everything good—don’t use email to communicate with a group of college students. It will not work. I recommend switching to a hipper social technology as soon as possible. Consider exchanging phone numbers, creating a Slack workspace, or ﬁring up a Discord server, among other options. You can always block them later.
Once you have a communication channel setup, you should use it. A silent chat isn’t a useful one. Share the progress you are making on the project and ask questions. If you need something, like access to a ﬁle, let people know. Tell the group how you ﬁxed that one problem, so others don’t fall into the same predicament. Take some responsibility and make the ride smoother for the team.
Inevitably, someone will ask for the project’s due date—so be prepared to share it. While you're at it, try to keep on topic. For example, don’t share memes or personal epitats without permission. Like read the room bruh. Also, don’t ﬂirt with people or post offensive material. The space should be kept professional and comfortable for everyone.
Meet in Person?
Relatively early on, consider asking for people’s availability times. This tip is especially helpful if you're going to meetup multiple times. To prove this point, let’s consider the craziness of college schedules. So, hypothetically, Joe has band practice. Jessica has yoga. George has 17 tests and a paper due every day of the week for the month of February. Oh, all of them also work jobs. It can be difﬁcult, to say the least, to ﬁnd a time that works for the group. Luckily, there are some scheduling tools that can help out—but at least ask.
For larger projects, consider scheduling in-person meetings if needed. You should try to hold the meeting in a productive location, so don’t go chill out in someone’s dorm room. Once all your group members arrive, you might ask if anyone has any questions or needs clariﬁcation on anything. They’ll probably lie or be too unorganized to give a good response—but there’s a chance you could avoid a problem or two.
While in the meeting, be courteous of everyone’s time. Keep the meeting short. Also, consider checking if anyone needs to leave early. Your group can then let these people contribute ﬁrst, and let them know any important information before he or she takes off.
Divide the Work
While y'all are in one place, try to break up the work into independent, even pieces. If your team can pull this off well, each piece can ﬁt together like a puzzle with little modiﬁcation. (In computer science speak, try to avoid a merge conﬂict.) This technique also minimizes the amount of communication needed. If possible, try to match group members to pieces they ﬁnd interesting or are good at doing. This isn’t always possible, so don’t fret too much if someone is assigned something they don’t enjoy.
Encourage people to follow up after the meeting. As a plus, this tip will help people who suck at thinking quickly in the moment. Try to make these types of people feel included. It would be a loss to the team to lose out on their ideas.
Spark Some Creativity
Sometimes, the project will go smoothly—decisions will be made, and people will ﬁnish their work on time. Other times, the group gets stuck. The ideas ﬂowing are just bad, but don’t fret. You can try a few things.
For one, before a meeting, you could brainstorm. Try making a list of ideas before showing up. You don't have to pitch all of them, but you'll hopefully have a few decent things to share.
At the meeting, share all your ideas, even if you think their stupid. It's hard to know how good an idea is without sharing it with other people. For example, I had a dumb idea for a key recognition app. Let me explain. You probably have a key ring full of keys. Over time, you might forget which key belongs to what door. The app would allow the labeling of the key, so it's owner could refresh their memory in a convenient way. I thought the idea was polarizing and left it sitting in my digital notepad. Yet, when I pitched this idea for a class project, the team actually decided to tackle it. Take a chance and speak up.
If all else fails, consider making a prototype and show it to the team. It doesn't have something time consuming—maybe a PowerPoint slide or two. I once was in a group where we had to write a paragraph length description. This isn't hard, but we couldn't agree on a topic. I ended up scribbling out a rough draft for an idea I liked. The group, perhaps out of laziness, accepted my idea.
As Kendrick says, stay humble. Be willing to learn from others. Listen to them. Please don't unilaterally make decisions for the whole group. Try to get others involved—or else they will loathe you. People herding is hard, and problems will arise. Out of personal experience, I recommend confronting group members in private, rather than putting them on blast in front of everyone. Keep the feedback constructive. Build people up, and praise them in public. Also, my advice isn't meant to be taken literally. Push yourself but don't force things on the group. It will all work out ﬁne.