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Thread: How to work better in groups?

  1. #1
    Bronze Member FairyGodmother's Avatar
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    How to work better in groups?

    Hi everyone,

    I'm going back to Uni for a career change, and decided to do a 4 week summer course to prep. It's all online due to COVID-19. I was put in a group with 5 other people to do weekly group assignments. They range in ages from 18 to 35.

    I dislike group assignments because I generally end up doing a vast majority of the work, and I find this frustrating. This time has been no different, but with the addition of one very challenging individual, let's call her Alexa.

    The first week we needed to submit lecture notes to our group chat by a certain date. I was the only one who did it within the deadline, and the next person to submit was Alexa. She had copied my notes verbatim. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or be angry, because it seemed so ridiculously bold. But it wasn't a graded assignment and it seemed petty to mention it so I let it go.

    The second week we were supposed to do a group leaflet. I suggested the topic, which the group accepted and I provided all the peer-reviewed scholarly sources for people to write their content on. We decided to all create a leaflet and vote on the best one. Out of 6 people, 3 people did not make a leaflet because they "didn't have time". The 3 people who made leaflets were Alexa, another group member (let's call him John), and me. John and I had each made a completed leaflet with all the content in it plus our own images, however Alexa only had a leaflet template from Word. Regardless, the only person who bothered to vote was one of the group members who hadn't completed a leaflet. She was therefore the deciding vote, and she voted for Alexa's leaflet. Alexa then used all the images from my leaflet, deleted everyone else's initials off the poster, and put the following wording front and center "Collated by *Alexa's Initials*". This made me really upset, but I didn't want to start anything I just wanted it to be rectified. So, I put this in the group chat:

    Me: Looks good, Alexa. Could you please add everyone's initials to the questions they did as well?
    Me: And probably remove the bit that says collated by Alexa since its a group effort

    She said yes, and obliged so I should have considered it a good outcome. But honestly, I couldn't help but harbour some amount of resentment.

    The third week was uneventful, thankfully. Which leads into today, the fourth week. We have to do a 2 min video with hint/tips for next year's summer course and it's due a day ealier than usual. Since no one has said anything about it yet, I suggested we divide it between all 6 people and each do 20 sec clips. However, I mistyped 20 sec as 20 min. Alexa then commented, "A 20 minute clip?!". At that point, I'd had about enough of her so I replied in the group chat something like "Obviously, Alexa, that was a typing error. It was supposed to say 20 sec as you should be able to surmise from the context." She replied, "Haha I did think it must have been a mistake!". I know I should have just left it, but instead I wrote, "Well I'm open to hearing your suggestions, Alexa, if you have any".

    Then she privately messaged me as follows:

    Alexa: Hey FairyGodmother, I just wanted to point out to you the aggressive/condescending tone in the last two messages aimed at me in the group chat. I don't know if this was the way you intended them to read, I wasn't having a dig at the 20 minutes I was lightheartedly noting the typo. Also I appreciate that you've already began planning the group work this week, it's very helpful!
    Me: Hi Alexa, I apologize for my tone. It did seem to me that your comment was meant to undermine my contribution to the group. However, you have said that was not the case and that I acted in a way that was inappropriate so for that I am sorry. It won't happen again, and I have deleted the comments in question.
    Alexa: Not at all, it's great that you are always fully engaged with the group work. I thought you would have seen the funny side in the typo and my message too, 20 seconds vs 20 minutes haha! No worries, very happy with what you've proposed for this week!

    Long story short, I know that I was rude and that my comments were not justified no matter what she has done. I wish I could undo it, but I can't. So instead, I'm just looking to prevent this from happening again because obviously I'm going to have to work in groups again in the future - not just at uni but at work.

    I would be really grateful if you guys could 1) explain to me what I should have done in this situation to get a better outcome and 2) give me some tips on group work for the future. Thanks.

  2. #2
    Platinum Member Rose Mosse's Avatar
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    Please don't be so hard on yourself. That's wonderful that you're looking for ways to improve. I think you handled the "collated by" issue very well. I can see that she might have felt she worked on it or put it together so felt she deserved some credit written somewhere. In the general scheme of things when working in a group or as a group effort I think you have a good idea of how things ought to flow. Did you pay for this course or was it free?

    Keep in mind one difference in school versus work: In school, students usually pay to be a part of groups and there is a running sense of entitlement. At work, you're selected and being paid for your work or ability to produce higher quality work while being able to work in a group so that sense of entitlement is lessened quite a bit in the workplace. There is always favouritism so it helps to try and be as diplomatic as possible either way.

    I also want to mention four weeks is very short! A typical North American semester from 12 to 16 weeks is also very short and this makes for a very skewed and unrealistic view on how workplace collaboration and projects flow in reality. Most projects are ongoing as client-bases are maintained and contracts are renewed.

    Some tips for future group work:

    Slow down any assumptions. I notice that you don't like being plagiarized. I don't think this is unusual. Nobody likes being plagiarized but she could have also listened to the instructor and copied what he/she said verbatim, not necessarily copying your notes. This is a listening and regurgitation exercise and it's very likely that a lot of students will write the same things if they are asked to regurgitate what someone else has said or what the instructor or lecture was all about.

    Ask more questions and be open to some type of discussion about what people are interested in doing. With such tight time constraints, no one is able to fully get to know their partners or groups, their work ethic, style or have any idea of how other people work. This is where misunderstandings may abound.

    You can overcome this disadvantage by remaining even more even-handed and neutral, reinforcing fairness and working on projects as a whole, not as an individual. I do think these scenarios are unrealistic and do give a false impression of what most of working life is like. The group sessions of 4, 12, 16 weeks gives you a chance to practice impartiality, detachment and in some ways some level of professionalism but if you are looking for something to really dig yourself into and are passionate about your work (if this course is related to work), I think it lacks the long term interactions that come with working with colleagues and clients over a longer period, in longer relationships. You're always going to be battling that sense of detachment and trying to figure out why people aren't putting as much effort into things as you. This may or may not be accurate for all group work. The point is to remain professional and execute the job without any sense of entitlement. You only exist as a whole entity - the group.

    I hope this helps you feel better! What you're experiencing is all extremely normal and healthy. Just remember that there are distinctions between working on a school project or school coursework versus actual working life and maintaining work relationships. You may be a mature student and wondering why the interactions and input/contributions are lacking or inappropriate at times. This is all part and parcel. Don't be so hard on yourself. If you are irritated, good! Use it to propel you forwards and ask yourself how you'd take those lessons to the real world and have a good idea that school work is not the real working world. Make use of the mental practice of it all. What did each exercise teach you? What was it designed to do? Is the course itself poorly designed? I think you'll be asked for feedback at the end - most courses request students' feedback. You have the opportunity to think critically about the curriculum/content and the design of the course also. Put things in perspective as not all courses are designed well.

  3. #3
    Platinum Member smackie9's Avatar
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    Group work at uni is way different in the business world. If you want to make it as a leader, you do have to be aggressive, but do it smartly and with tact. When you see someone copying your work, point it out immediately, but say "I know everyone is busy with their studies, but it's not very productive to copy someones notes or neglect your responsibilities to the group. You are letting the others down by your lack of effort. It would be great to put a little more effort for next time." Be pleasant, but drive the message home.

    You have the drive but you need to a cool head, but be firm and direct with your communication, rather than "letting it go" and stew on it til you lose your cool and come off as a %$#@^. Standing up for yourself, being fair about it will earn you respect.

  4. #4
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    We decided to all create a leaflet and vote on the best one

    My first thought here was that for 5 out the 6 people, their work is just going to be discarded. For me, that would be a big demotivator.

    You're better off everyone having their own assigned role rather than ''everyone does the whole thing and then we toss 5 peoples' work in the bin''. Same as you would do in a job: person A is responsible for this, person B is responsible for that etc etc. Make everyone's work important and valued.

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  6. #5
    Bronze Member FairyGodmother's Avatar
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    Thanks for your feedback, I appreciate all of it. I think my main problem is bottling things up and exploding - I think I just need to take a step back and try to figure out how to diffuse my anger so that this type of situation doesn't happen again.

  7. #6
    Platinum Member smackie9's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Ian4996
    We decided to all create a leaflet and vote on the best one

    My first thought here was that for 5 out the 6 people, their work is just going to be discarded. For me, that would be a big demotivator.

    You're better off everyone having their own assigned role rather than ''everyone does the whole thing and then we toss 5 peoples' work in the bin''. Same as you would do in a job: person A is responsible for this, person B is responsible for that etc etc. Make everyone's work important and valued.
    Tho this would be ideal and the millennial way of doing things, this isn't what is assigned for their curriculum. They have to do the weekly assignment individually. It teaches people they need to actually put in effort if you want to make it in this world. You didn't win? suck it up and push yourself do better next time. From what happened, it shows the OP is going to get that promotion while everyone else is going to be working in the mail room.

  8. #7
    Platinum Member catfeeder's Avatar
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    I find it helpful to pretend that my snidest, most snotty moment will be captured on video or preserved in text and seen by my boss. That prevents me from going there.

    I've never loved group projects, but I've worked them all through grad school. Like you, I'm not lowering my own bar while there's a GPA to protect. So I mentally plan on doing most of the work as though it's a solo project, and then when others step up it's a pleasant surprise.

    I can usually identify someone else in the group who feels the same way. So I partner with that person in planning our ideas and communication so that the suggestions to the group are not always coming from just me or just her or him. We cover one another.

    Mostly passive people just comply and are grateful for leadership, while stronger personalities push in and we welcome them. We avoid friction--if someone feels strongly enough to buck one of our suggestions, we either go with theirs, or we 'appear' to go with theirs as we do our own work and find a way to blend it all together.

    "The appearance of being reasonable is more important than actually being reasonable." Dr. Joy Browne.

  9. #8
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    Originally Posted by smackie9
    It teaches people they need to actually put in effort
    The problem is, the opposite is true here. People can just not do the task (which 3 of the 6 people in this group haven't) and just think 'oh it doesn't matter because Alexa or Fairygodmother will have done it so we can just vote for their work'.


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