Collaborative Projects: Learning to Love Group Work

Hi everyone! This week, we will be discussing professional communication, in both professional and academic settings. To start, Sarah Paterson ’15 will begin the discussion with collaboration by reflecting on her personal experiences and how she came to enjoy academic collaboration!


Since high school, I’ve noticed a common class reaction to group projects: a collective groan. From research papers in freshmen intro courses to 300-level literature presentations, students seem to really resent group work. The typical timeline of group project drama probably has a lot to do with it.

Here’s how these projects usually go:

  1. The group meets for the first time. Everybody seems to get along, and everything is fine. At least one person mentions how much they hate group work.
  2. The first week of the project goes by, and nobody does any work on the project.
  3. The due date is in a week, and still nobody has done anything. Panic ensues.
  4. One person (or two, if you’re lucky) believes that if they don’t do the work, the project won’t get done. They begrudgingly take on every single aspect of the project, stay up until 4 a.m. getting it done, and grow to resent the rest of the group with a fiery, burning passion.
  5. Everyone waits to turn in the project with bated breath.
  6. The group gets a middling grade; everyone vows to put the project behind them.

Fortunately for me, that’s not how group projects go in Professional Writing classes. From Intro to Professional Writing and Rhetoric to Publishing to Writing as Inquiry, my classes in PWR have focused on positive, productive collaboration. Even the way the seats are organized in the CUPID lab (pods of 5) encourage conversation and cooperation between students on a day-to-day basis.

In our CUPID Studio class, we spent the first day before our group client projects began establishing ground rules for good communication. All of us acknowledged the horror-timeline listed above and discussed what we would need to do to avoid it in our future group projects. We came up with the following policies:

  • Communicate effectively, in a timely manner
  • Be committed and accountable to each other and to deadlines
  • Accept, encourage, respect, and integrate feedback

With those golden rules established, it was easy to move into the next phase of our project. Each individual group came up with their own guidelines and talked honestly about our schedules, work styles, and expectations for the project. For example, our group found that it was easiest to share and send information, including to-do lists and deadlines, through Google Docs. Google Docs allow us to work together on our own very different schedules and provide content feedback through highlights, in-document changes, and the comment system.

Positive and proactive communication goes a long way in turning frustrating group projects into productive and enjoyable group work. Establishing rules early, especially rules for how to best give and address feedback and other potentially touchy issues, is a good way to keep everyone involved on the same page. It’s helpful to talk about every participant’s strengths, too – it makes the project easy to organize and lets you learn something about the people you’ll be working with.

Working with other people isn’t always easy. There are roadblocks in almost every project. But when you have strategies for communicating and set expectations that you can rely on, group work doesn’t need to be groan-worthy. In fact, it can even be fun.


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