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How to Successfully Manage Group Projects

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How to Successfully Manage Group Projects Expert Advice from Amma MarfoIf a “group projects” Google search brought you here, you probably saw some doom-and-gloom headlines along the way like, How to Survive a Group Project, 4 Tips for Surviving a Group Project, or The Ultimate Group Project Survival Guide. Which leaves us asking: Why do group projects and team dynamics prove so difficult sometimes?

Amma Marfo, a leadership and group dynamics expert, suggests that personality types, communication styles, and motivations are most likely at odds with each other.

“You’ll have some people very involved in the task and really interested in doing it well being grouped with people who have no interest in what you’re working on and are only willing to put in the minimal amount of effort,” says Marfo, who leads creativity and team-building events and workshops for FUN Enterprises. “Some of that war feeling is an actual fight in trying to get good work out of people who have no interest in doing so.”

So, what can you do when embarking on that next battle/group assignment at work or school? You can start by heeding some of Marfo’s expert advice about teamwork collaboration, listening, feedback, and everyone’s favorite – conflict management.

Amma Marfo Group Projects and Team Dynamics Expert FUN Enterprises

Leadership expert and speaker Amma Marfo

1. Collaboration is key

While team dynamics are challenging at times, more people tends to mean more skill sets and more eyes, ears, and solutions. And that can lead to better results. “The benefits of being collaborative are having more minds on a problem,” says Marfo. “I do a session with students on creativity where they do a small task where they have to come up with ideas on their own, and then later in the session they have an opportunity to do it together in groups, and we talk about the benefits of doing it with others. They like having the extra ideas, and they like not feeling burdened with having to come up with all those ideas.

2. Open the lines of communication

And keep them open. Even when it gets tough. “So much of the trouble that we have with group projects comes from a hesitance to communicate openly and with candor,” Marfo suggests. “Put some semblance of trust in the people you’re working with even if you don’t agree with them, even if you’ve never worked with them before. Going in with an open mind and communicating honestly is important. If someone is doing a great job, tell them. If someone is letting you down, be open to telling them that. As long as the communication lines are open, and you’re ready to listen and also to speak your mind when needed, that will only improve things.”

3. Appreciate the yin and yang personality effect

In a teamwork setting, there will always be strong, outgoing personalities and there will always be more reserved types. And that’s a good thing, says Marfo, because they work in balance.

In the first group meeting, outline the tasks and determine who on your team is good at what. “Start by saying, ‘Here’s the task at hand. We’ll break it up in this way. Who feels most comfortable with which task?’ Occasionally you’ll find something nobody wants to do and it will have to be assigned. But start with what people want to do and what they’re good at,” says Marfo. Not everyone is comfortable with public speaking. Some people might be bored to tears by the research task. Line up the team on strengths when possible.

4. Raise your hand and volunteer

Once tasks and to-dos are sorted, lean in – especially if you’re an introvert or have anxiety, says Marfo. “Pick that thing that you’re comfortable with and identify that early,” she continues. “It will make you look like you have initiative upfront and you get to pick first, so you’re not going to get left with a task that will cause stress. For introverts, maybe that’s compiling the paper at the end, or maybe that is reaching out to people who will be resources. If you don’t step up and then no one volunteers to present, you may get stuck presenting.”

5. Listen. Listen. Listen.

Did you hear that A-type personalities? Listen to what others have to say, even if you don’t agree. Marfo recommends that extroverts should “feel the room out, feel people out, feel personalities out, and understand what they’re interested in. Sometimes that might take a bit of energy to sit back and let the conversation unfold around you, but you can learn more about the group and the people you’re working with.”

6. Mistakes are OK - and so is feeling a bit uncomfortable.

Despite the in-the-moment cringe, an oops or two will be good for you. This is how you’ll grow and hone your skill set. And get ready to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. As a relationship expert suggested in dealing with roommates, expect that group projects will undoubtedly come with a bit of squirming.

“Good things come from being uncomfortable,” suggests Marfo. “You learn about yourself, you learn about other people. So even if you have to gut your way through it, ask yourself, ‘What are you getting from that experience? What are you learning about yourself? What new skills are you acquiring to fill in those gaps?’”

7. Agree upfront on how to manage differences and conflict

Marfo suggests that conflict management comes down to communication and how people read communication. “Have a group understanding of what’s expected of everybody, how people like to be communicated with, communicating feedback in a large group, vs. one on one,” says Marfo. “It’s not just about the tasks at hand, but setting ground rules on how we’re going to communicate with one another and respecting those rules for all people.”

8. Keep things light, before they get heavy

In her TedX talk, Lessons in Laughter, Marfo recommends bringing a lightness to stressful or otherwise difficult situations. “Incorporating humor doesn’t necessarily mean finding ways to joke around but having a sense of levity with what you’re about to do. Most of the time when you’re embarking on a group project, it’s not a life or death situation. No end result will kill anybody, no end result will tank anyone’s grade most likely. It’s a matter of understanding that there’s a lightness to what you’re doing and the goal is to create a project that everybody is happy with.”

Follow Amma on Twitter and learn more about group projects and teamwork success on AmmaMarfo.com.




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Photo credit: Galen Mooney