Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Why I Hate Group Work

You will find yourself in a situation, be it work, social, civic. or otherwise where you are part of a team that has a specific goal. Reaching that goal is going to take teamwork and collaboration. Here are tips to succeed or fail, depending on your goal.

Collaboration is a unique challenge with a social or civic venture where people aren't required to show up for pay. Sometimes the incentive of doing a good job, isn't enough. I've been in multiple groups and there will always be team members who have zero drive or time to devote to the group, despite agreeing to be on the team and to contribute in the first place.

Sometimes a group deteriorates so far that the last resort is to quit. I've quit groups when I realized there was nothing I could contribute. As long as  I can contribute something, anything, I will stay, but sometimes the group redefines the goal to reduce effort.

Before we get to a successful team, let's talk about how to sabotage a team. Poor communication is the biggest factor. Not sharing ideas, skipping meetings, creating 'sides' to an argument, failure to assign a leader, and no method to deal with issues.

A successful group communicates before the project, develops motivation, communicates during the project, and is resilient when overcoming disagreements. No group is perfect, but you can develop a successful plan.

Communication
The first step is a kick off meeting. Define your goals, deadlines, and determine roles.The what is why everyone is in the room, the how determines if they stay in the room.You want insight from everyone, because you want them to be included. Be sure to record a summary of the meeting and email it. While people will still claim they don't remember or didn't see it, you have proof. With group work, if it is worth saying, it is worth repeating.

The first question, are people willing to devote the time necessary? Be honest with yourself and the team, if you can't commit the time, excuse yourself from the team. Too many people want to be on the team, but want someone else to do the work.

The what is why everyone is in the room, 
the how determines if they stay in the room.

Motivation
Acknowledge everyone's contributions. If people feel included, they are likely to share ideas. While an idea may not be the right solution, it may answer a valuable question. Outright dismissing someone's idea can stop them from future suggestions.
Balance the work load. One person doing everything is a road to ruin. Communication is critical. The person that appears not to be contributing may just need direction on what to do. Some people need prodding.
I like planning and starting projects. This leads to me doing a lot of upfront work. I've shown up to the first meeting with a small book on team expectations and a two month project schedule, when everyone else hasn't started. This often leads to me doing a lot of the work because I have such a great start. You can guess the problems that arise. Team quickly becomes me.
I've been in groups where the team never sees a quarter of the work I've put in because we never get there. If I'm on step 11 and everyone else is on step 2, that can be discouraging. While I may be ahead of everyone else, they only see that I'm a step or two ahead, if that.

Communication
The coordinator of information will become the de facto leader. This person needs to be organized. This is critical when schedules are at stake. As the leader, a big part of the job is repetition. Repeat and remind people what they need to do and when they need to do it.
Are people willing to coordinate online? Google docs provides great collaboration tools if people are willing to use it, but don't implement tools people won't use. Unfortunately, even if people say they will use the tools, there is a good chance they won't.
Set ground rules. Who decides how people are added to the team? How is each team member held accountable? If a team member is under performing, how is it addressed? Are decisions unanimous or majority? Determining these questions won't make it easier to enforce them, it gives you something to point to as a defense to stop arguments. Many people will want to address it when it happens, this method results in disorganization and disagreement. If you don't have guidelines in place it leads to further delinquency. The resolution will be next time this happens there will be a consequence.
I meet deadlines. With a deadline approaching (agreed to by the team), and no information from the team, I came up with the information for the first deadline. This created a cycle, that I eventually halted.

Resiliency
Everyone wants the goal (hopefully), but they disagree with the approach. Disagreements will happen. It's how you work through them that determines whether the project crashes. It's not about who is right, but what is best for the project. The focus is not you versus them. Review notes and roles, sometimes you just need to clarify. When you've built a foundation in the first few meetings, this gives you a focus.
You can't take things personally. The fact is people in the group who were informed of the time investment, who are reminded about what they need to do still won't make the group a priority. That is their problem and not yours. Another reason to establish roles is so that each person knows what they are supposed to do, and prevents them from doing too much.

When you tap the talents of multiple people, 
you can create amazing results.

Conclusion
Remember, it's incredibly hard to be objective when you're in the middle of a group. Clear communication, discussion, and concession is required. Focus on the goal, not on group members.
Group work can be extremely difficult. You will get people that don't show up to meetings and aren't willing to contribute, but despite that group work can create amazing results. When you tap the talents of multiple people you can create amazing results.
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