How to Manage a Group Project: Some General Advice
March 2, 2013
Now I know what you're all thinking: Project management? Boring. I hate working in groups. What does this have to do with atheism/skepticism? My response: Boring? Sometimes, but you can make it fun. Working in groups? It's going to happen at some point. What does this have to do with atheism/skepticism? You have to work in groups if you want to set up a cool event, like Darwin week, or a fundraiser, run a conference. Plus, many readers of this blog are students and this could apply to school life as well.
My education has provided me with many opportunities to work on group projects, I've learned a few things that I think could be useful as general tips to working in/managing a group.
1) Be mindful of who is on the project team
It's important that the people you are working with are ones that are committed to working on the project. If you are setting up an event, get the people who are the most passionate about the event's topic. This will act as a great motivator to ensure everyone pitches in.
Of course, there will be projects you'll run into where you don't have a choice in the members. In this case, identifying everyone's strength and weaknesses early on is important. Have someone who is good at cold calling? Get them on the phone to talk to the people the project needs to get in touch with to move forward. Have someone who is really organized? Have them organizing all your documents/emails, etc.
2) Don't let issues with individuals go unaddressed
Going through life without experiencing a group project in which no one is ever causing an issue is a rare thing. There will come times when someone is not doing their job, or is creating a rift among the group. Do not let these issues go unaddressed. Though it's never easy to talk to someone when such an issue exists, it's better to address it before it gets out of hand. Jeopardizing the group and the project as a whole. Following up on this point:
3) If you're the project manager, learn how to give constructive criticism
So you find yourself faced with a group member not working as well as they should. The next step is to talk to them, but how do you go about doing that? Be constructive in your criticism. Telling someone they are doing a bad job, with no reasons given, will lead to a confrontation. It's best to lace the criticism with some compliments. E.g. I think you are doing a very good job with X, but we would like to see some improvement in Y. Tell them exactly what you are looking for in terms of improvement.
4) Project manager/leader does not equal dictator
The top-down management approach, especially when you are talking about a group of students working together on a project/planning an event/setting up a fundraiser, doesn't always work well. Being the manager means taking direction from everyone in the group, and giving direction back. A two-way street. As discussed in point 1), learn the strengths and weaknesses of everyone, including your own. Get people working to their strengths, offer assistance as needed. The main job as the manager is to ensure everyone is staying focused and on task.
These are just a few pointers that, I hope, will make those group projects just a bit easier and more enjoyable.