Dear Ally,

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Collaboration as a Core Value

Dear Ally,

I worked late tonight and had dinner in the dining hall and joined a few students that I knew. They asked why I was still there and I said I had a grant pre-proposal that I was writing with a team that was due tomorrow. One student exclaimed, “That sounds like us!” and another asked, “So group projects don’t go away, do they?” I replied that they do not go away and, in fact, become very important.

Most students dread having to do group work as evidenced by all the negative “group project memes.” I’ve had my share of dysfunctional collaborative efforts and proclaimed in college that “a camel is a race horse designed by a committee.”

My most recent experience, however, was extremely enjoyable, so I thought I’d highlight the value of collaboration. True collaboration should be synergistic, in other words, the whole is not merely a collection of everyone’s individual contributions, but something more.

The diverse skills and perspectives of team members should complement each other. I realized that some members of my team are big picture people while others are detailed oriented. I ended up organizing the ideas, while I had to leave it up to others to put my outline into prose. Once  written though, it was easy for me to rearrange and reword to cut our text down to the limited number of words allowed. A skilled editor put the icing on the cake.

Some tips for your next group project based on my recent experience:

Do Not Procrastinate! This was the mistake that caused me to stress the entire Thanksgiving holiday because I should have called my group together much earlier. Remember to give ample time for your group members to review the work and give input and then allow time for further revision. Remember also that other people have lives and probably can’t work on the project the entire 24 hours before it’s due. This kind of procrastination is what leads to the “group project due tomorrow…no one showed up” scenario.

Start with a face to face meeting. If everyone expects someone else to call the group together, nothing will get done. Take the initiative to suggest a meeting to get started. Motivating people is a valuable leadership skill. My crew had several face to face meetings before we wrote anything. It felt like we hadn’t accomplished much until I began to compile what we’d discussed.

Assess the skills. Your classmates will be more likely to contribute if they are in charge of a component in which they have confidence. Discuss what needs to be done and ask for volunteers for each piece. I found out that one of my math colleagues certainly has a way with words. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though, she has been writing a blog much longer than I have.

Don’t be afraid to delegate. Don’t be tempted to take the parts for which no one is volunteering. If you know a person in your group has the ability or knowledge to complete it, remark on their skills and specifically ask them to do it. In my case, I sent a general email out to many people asking for interest in the project and after only one person responded, I emailed individuals telling them I believed they could contribute and asked them to join us. Everyone I asked in this way responded yes. This past weekend I was stressing about nothing solid being written yet and your uncle said that I needed to delegate, so when my colleague asked what she could do to contribute, I assigned her a specific question to answer.

Take advantage of project tools. As my colleague’s 12 year old daughter said of e-mailing each other Word documents, “That is so 20th century.” Using technology designed for collaborating in real time such as Google Docs or One Drive will save a lot of hassle and headaches.

Trust the process and your peers. You might need to remind your group members of deadlines and check in on them from time to time, but do not take over the entire project, if it seems to be progressing slowly or if it’s not going in the direction you imagined. Upon reading some of my colleagues’ contributions today, I said to myself, “That’s not what I would have written…it’s better.”

Congratulate and celebrate. Once the project is successfully finished, give credit where credit is due and take pride in a job well done.

Good luck on your future group projects!

Aunt Sarah




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