Monday 23 February 2015

The key to acing group assignments

A simple Google image search for “group assignment meme” reveals a deep-seated cynicism about the value of group work.

Indeed, an Australian study found that more than half of students had reservations about group assignments, citing “inequality in the contribution of members” as the top reason for frustration. Further, awarding marks without recognition of individual effort merely rubbed salt into a wound opened by weeks of conflict and broken promises.

But with many advanced postgraduate tax courses, such as The Tax Institute's Graduate Diploma of Applied Law, featuring group work as part of their assessment, how can you approach the task in a more relaxed manner – especially when it is perceived that a colleague or fellow student is not pulling their weight? Below are a few simple planning rules to make the path to group work smoother.

Appoint a leader

If the purpose of group work is to simulate real life, then start off on the right foot by appointing a leader. The leader should have a bird’s-eye view of the entire project, fairly dividing the tasks, the order of work and setting reasonable deadlines. If a broken deadline impacts on the work of another team member, this should be negotiated through the leader to minimise conflict.

Clearly define roles

Set clear, reasonable goals and timelines that are shared by the whole group. Be realistic about what can be achieved and be upfront about current commitments. Have clearly described, specific roles that address each part of the set criteria, and ensure everyone understands how their part fits into the overall project.

Meet regularly

Meet face to face at least one hour per week as a group. It is amazing what regular deadlines can do for progress, but the inverse is also true. Waiting until the final deadline to summon an emergency meeting often ends in unanswered calls, sudden illness and piles of frustration.

Dealing with the shirker

Inevitably, there will be someone who is just not pulling his or her weight. Resolving problems quickly is not easy, but it is important. Don’t get personal. Simply draw attention to the prior shared agreements and address problems of missed deadlines or quality as they arise. Listen carefully to the point of view of the other person and try to arrive at a reasonable agreement to move on.

The satisfaction of sharing ideas and achieving a collective goal far outweighs the despair felt by many at the announcement of a group assignment. By keeping these tips in mind when tackling such tasks, you'll enjoy an early taste of the teamwork and collaboration you'll experience once you've entered the workforce.

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