Teamwork Allows You to Blame Someone Else: How to Deal with Group Assignments

Ah, group assignments. They have such possibility for good—shared knowledge, the bringing together of great minds, the lessons of camaraderie and cooperation. However, the potential good doesn’t always come to fruition. If you’re aiming for a 4.0 GPA or for improving your current grades, group projects may scare you. After all, you can only do your part, rely on the other members to do theirs, and then hope for a good grade, right? Wrong! Here’s a list of tips to help you get the best grade that you can out of a group project.

Remember to listen to your partners when you're working on group assignments. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Remember to listen to your partners when you’re working on group assignments.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

1. Be the leader. If you want control over your grades, then you take control over the assignment. Does this mean that you should be a dictator? No. What it means is that you volunteer for the responsibilities of setting up meetings, keeping track of deadlines, and sending out reminders. As a leader, your job is to keep the group organized, make sure that you address all aspects of the project’s prompt, and that the group (including yourself) knows what each person is supposed to contribute.

2. Take responsibility. If something goes wrong or doesn’t get done, don’t put the onus on someone else even if he/she has earned that blame. Woman-up or man-up and fix things, even if that means that you have to do extra work.

3. Assign yourself the majority of the work. You want control? Then don’t put most of the assignment’s burden on someone else. You volunteer for the biggest parts, you make sure to get them done, and you do them well, which leads us to . . . .

4. Make sure that what you do is quality work. If you want to do the majority of the work in order to have the majority of the control, then you better make sure that you’re doing quality work. It’s not fair to take on that work only to do yourself and your partners a disservice by doing it poorly.

5. Make deadlines for the group’s work to be checked and meshed together, and make those deadlines be at least two weeks before the assignment is due. Will you actually make these deadlines? Probably not, so don’t get discouraged. These deadlines mostly act as nudges to yourself and to your partners to get going on the project.

As a leader, one of your jobs is to try to get the members of your group in synch with one another. Photo By: Elizabeth Presotn

As a leader, one of your jobs is to try to get the members of your group in synch with one another.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

6. If you’re the weak link in your group, be up front with your group members and make up for your weaknesses in other areas. I took a biology lab in which we had to capture bugs with soap traps, empty the traps each week, and then categorize each insect. This was an awful assignment for me for a couple of reasons: 1) I think that the loss of life is ridiculous. Yes, I know that they’re just bugs, but bugs feed other animals—you know, the whole “circle of life” thing that Rafiki kept talking about. It felt wasteful and wrong to capture the insects and kill them only to pour their little bodies down the drain once we were done. 2) I don’t do well with bugs. Hey, just because I don’t want to kill them doesn’t mean that I have to like them. If the insects are out of a fly fishing environment, then I get a little freaked out by them. I told my lab partners about my issues with bugs, and they were very kind and said that they would deal with the categorization of the insects. In return for their understanding, I wrote up most of the collective lab report, made sure to be the scribe for our group, and designed the majority of the experiment. They never asked for this (they were too kind), but sorting out the insects was a large part of the experiment in which I wasn’t participating. It was only right that I do extra work to make up for the work that I wasn’t doing.

7. Remember that very few assignments are too big for you to do the majority of the work for. I once had a professor say (after we turned our project in, of course) that she purposely made the assignment too big for one person to handle so that group members would be forced to divvy up the load. Little did she know that I did 90% of my group’s work because one member had a family to take care of and I think that he was a little overwhelmed, and the other member was . . . well . . . let’s just say that we weren’t bosom buddies. They knew that I was going to do the work, and, quite frankly, neither seemed to care if we earned a good grade or just a fair grade on the assignment. This happens sometimes. Did I feel overwhelmed? Yes. Was I ticked off? Yes. Still, I got it done, and you can too. If you really feel like you can’t handle the load by yourself, enlist some of your true friends or your family to help you. Also, if you have another group member who is giving the assignment his/her best shot, then go to that person, explain the situation, and see if he/she is willing to help shoulder the load.

8. Don’t tattle. After doing 90% of the work in the group project mentioned in #7, you would think that I would be justified in going to the professor and telling her who did most of the work. Maybe I was, but I didn’t go to her because there’s no point. When you do most of the work on an assignment and get a good grade, going to the teacher and tattling amounts to little more than vengeance. Also, many teachers don’t care who did most of the work. As a professor once told me, “It’s a group project. I’m grading you as a group. You’re going to have to figure it out.” As unfair as it may be, “figuring it out” oftentimes means that you do most of the work. Get angry, tell your friends, complain to your family, and then be happy with the good grade that you’ll probably get because the project is quality work coming from you.

9. Let the squabbles go. This one can be hard. No matter how much you try to collaborate with, and be respectful of, someone, sometimes you’re simply not going to get along. One partner and I ended up in a spat in which he questioned my intelligence and I questioned his honesty. Uh-huh. Things got real. When it came time to give our presentation, he disliked me and I dislike him. However, we managed to put our loathing of one another aside, gave the presentation, and got an “A” on it. This is one of the pillars of collaborative work—working together toward a shared goal and ignoring the other stuff. Sometimes, with group work, you’ve just got to get through your fights and either 1) have a discussion in which you agree to a temporary truce, 2) talk with one another and, in the words of today’s youth, “squash it,” or 3) you forget about your pride for a moment, be the bigger person, and try to move on as best as you can.

10. Try to pick your partners if you can. This ups your chances at avoiding confrontation and at working with people you like and trust.

Don't ask something from your group members that you aren't willing to do yourself. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

There should be give and take in group projects.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

11. Have trust in your partners if they’ve already shown themselves to be hard workers and if they consistently do excellent work. I was once doing a group project with my friend. I knew that she was a terrific student and writer and that she cared about doing well on the assignment. We had missed all of our early deadlines (see #5) to mesh things together and to check each other’s work. I was done with my part, but she hadn’t finished hers because she’d been dumped on with work by her other classes, work, and teaching obligations. She apologized for not having everything done yet, and my response was: “If it was anyone other than you, then I’d be freaking out. But it’s you, so I’m good.” That’s a pretty laid-back response for me, but I trusted her, and guess what. She came through and our presentation dripped with awesomeness and earned an “A.” Sometimes, you’ve got to let go of the control and trust your partners.

12. Be okay with giving and with compromising. When group assignments go well, they can bring the best out of each person. If a member really wants a certain part of the work, or feels truly passionately about something that isn’t inherently wrong (such as ignoring the prompt, which is pretty much always the wrong thing to do), then you should let that member have his/her way. Listen to your partners, because their ideas could be completely awesome and take your project to a whole new level of greatness.

Group work can be fun and bring out everyone’s strengths. When you get a good group, man, it’s a sweet deal. However, group work can also become the bane to your existence. My advice is to trust your group members, just as they are trusting you, and go into the project with a positive attitude and positive thoughts. Then, if someone refuses to do the work or blatantly doesn’t try, well, then be like a camel and shoulder the extra baggage. It’s your grade, so it’s your responsibility to protect that grade.

Bonne chance, mes amis!

Have any questions about this blog post, or have questions that you want answered about some other aspect of college and obtaining an awesome GPA? Do you think that I might have missed something? Write it in the comments below, and I’ll give it a go. 🙂

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