Contributed by Bryce Ward
Group work – we have all had to do it at some point in our lives. In high school and college it meant a lot of awkward silences and large disparities in work contributions, but in the real world it means having to mesh multiple different points of view that rarely coincide.
At times, this attempt to harmoniously combine multiple perspectives can seem like more trouble than it’s worth – “if only I could just work on this project alone” you may think to yourself, “then I could really get things done.” Group work is not easy to do well, that is certain. But when done right, a project that formed out of the contributions of multiple points of view has significant advantages over a project formed by only one.
Successful group work, by definition, must be challenging – if you want to find nuggets of wisdom, you have to be willing to sift through the muck. Granted, there is no guarantee that you will be successful, but there are ways to improve your odds.
The first step in setting up a group project for success is to recognize and acknowledge your blind-spots. No one person is an expert on everything; we each have our own unique strengths and weaknesses. To ignore this is to doom your project. Whether you are leading the group project or simply participating in it, it is crucial that you understand the strengths and weakness of both yourself and your group members. Be open-minded enough to recognize these disparities in your group so you can use them to your advantage.
Having multiple people work on a project is both a blessing and a curse. The benefits of solo work are the disadvantages of group work; the benefits of group work are the disadvantages solo work – the optimum solution, then, is to integrate the benefits of each style of work. Of course, that sounds easy enough on paper, but not so much in practice. The only way to accomplish it is by trying and adjusting along the way. Each group is different because each person is different. The single most important trait you can have when working in a group, and especially when leading one, is to be open-minded. Assume each group member knows where to find those nuggets of wisdom and how to get them, they may just be right.