Oh no! The dreaded two words revered and feared throughout the land of colleges and universities: group projects. I’ve heard many a student complain about group projects, and while we all have probably had our fair share of group project horror stories, these groups are a potential goldmine for developing many soft skills needed to flourish in our future careers. Of the top 10 skills and qualities employers seek in job candidates from National Association of Colleges & Employers, ability to work in a team is ranked number two. Plus, I would say the top five skills on their list can be learned through group work. Call me crazy, but I actually like group projects (provided everyone pulls their weight) and here are some reasons why.
Combine your Strengths with the Strengths of Others
Chances are on a group project or team you will work with people who have different strengths than you do and will have slightly different perspectives and knowledge bases. This diversity can lead to better solutions to problems and higher quality work than an individual might have been able to accomplish on their own. This is one of the things I like best about working on group projects. For instance, I can be a very detail-oriented person, sometimes I find that I have trouble starting projects because I am hung up on the details. My group members for my psychology research project were able to get us started with basic ideas for our research paper, then I was able to refine it by adding necessary details and rephrasing sentences so ideas were conveyed more clearly.
Sometimes at school and work, you just don’t understand something, and collaboration in a group means you have access to knowledge that is outside of yourself. Asking a peer for explanation can be less intimidating, and they also may explain it in a different way you grasp more quickly. I have also found that when you teach something you are better able to understand it yourself. I understood the concepts in my communication class better after discussing it with my group members, talking about them until we came to a satisfactory understanding. This also helps you develop the communication skills needed to collaborate with others.
Break Down Tasks and Delegate Responsibilities
“Many hands make light work” and whatnot. Beyond the obvious potential benefits of dividing up work, the ability to break down tasks and delegate responsibilities are vital skills within organizations. While you may not be interested in taking a leadership position, these skills display a couple of leadership abilities too. I’ve been in groups where we meet and do all the work during meetings. In my most recent series of group projects (accomplished with the same group) we chose to meet, outline what we were going to do (break down tasks), and divide up the work, before a final meeting to pull it all cohesively together.
Practice with Feedback
Feedback is a huge part of the working world, and it is important for us to practice how to receive it professionally (as well as give feedback). In one part of my group project series, I volunteered to take the analysis part of the paper (which is potentially the most important), only to struggle with what to come up with. I met with my group told them of my struggles and they gave me feedback, positive and negative, on what I wrote. Negative feedback is not always easy to hear, but the feedback gave me a jumping off point for us to collaborate and make the paper better.
When you work with others there is always the potential for conflict, which means there is always the potential for creative conflict resolution. In almost every group project you will work with people you have never met before, while I have never been in an academic work group that was fraught with conflict, both conflict resolution and relationship building skills are important for work and for life. You can use these group project experiences and what you learned from them as examples in interviews to answer questions like “tell us about a time when you solved a problem,” “worked with someone different from you?”, or “resolved a conflict?”
The Harvard Business Review collected data which shows “over the past two decades, the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more” (Cross, Rebele, Grant, 2016 as cited in Duhigg, 2016). So love ‘em or hate ‘em, it looks like we aren’t getting out of group projects any time soon. Group projects are valid experiences, that have the potential to hone your soft skills. If you’re interested, you can check out a more extensive list of benefits of group projects. And if you’re a nerd about people and human behavior, like me, or simply a fan of Google, you can check out an awesome New York Times article about their “quest to build the ‘perfect’ team”.
Photo Source: Unsplash | Kelli Tungay