Unlike many of the Master’s programs at Queen’s, my program, Urban and Regional Planning, is primarily course-based. We learn to apply our skills to “real-world context” which essentially boils down to lots of group work! This semester, my cohort has been absolutely swamped with the number of group projects happening simultaneously. I’m currently working in five groups, each with five members. All of us are just barely keeping up with the different deliverables, team members, deadlines, and meetings. I know that lots of people dread the idea of working with other people, but the reality is that group work is just part of most jobs and also life in general. I happen to really enjoy group work. I find that it invokes discussion and the generation of new ideas that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. After having worked in so many group settings, I’d like to share some ways to make group work, work.
To be a good team member, it’s important to be able to identify what your strengths are and how they could benefit the team. The best part about working in a team is that each individual can play to their strengths which can fill the weaknesses a single individual might have. Knowing this information makes it easier to assign different roles to different individuals. Some basic roles, that are relevant in most groups, include a note-taker, document manager, editor, and project manager. Having roles ensures that there is one person that is accountable for something in particular. Sometimes it also ensures that everyone has a responsibility throughout the course of the project. Having a role can also create a sense of ownership for the group and the project. I tend to take the role of document manager or editor because I really enjoy editing, formatting, and compiling information.
A project manager role is often overlooked in the course work setting, especially if it isn’t required by the assignment/professor. Designating a project manager can help keep everyone in check. It doesn’t mean that the individual has any particular authority over the project, but rather this person is instrumental in making sure that the group meets deadlines, stays focused in meetings, and ensures everyone is actually doing the work that was delegated to them. Having someone to keep meetings focused is guaranteed to help save time and improve efficiency.
In order to have a good team, you need to also be a good team member. Over the years, I have figured out a strategy that works for me. The only way I can be a good team member is if I have a good grasp of what the team needs to achieve and what I need to do to help them do that. The best way to figure this out is to create a list of deliverables, and deadlines for each of them. I think it’s generally best to do all the big picture thinking together, but then implementing a “divide and conquer strategy” to designate what each individual member will contribute to the project. If a project plan is created early on, it can significantly reduce stress and conflict.
Lastly, communication is key! In most of my group projects, we use the Outlook calendar or Google calendar to schedule meetings. Most of my groups use Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp as a means of conversation. To collaborate the actual work, we use Google Drive or Microsoft Teams. Teams is great because it’s connected through the Queen’s email, uses all the Microsoft applications (such as Excel and Word), and can store all the documents in your Queen’s OneDrive. For the group, the bulk of the idea generation and discussion is done in person through scheduled meetings. Overall, ensuring that the team has a good sense of what to use each communication medium for will improve the flow of information and reduce chances for miscommunication.
Overall, I know that group work can be difficult because its time consuming, difficult to coordinate schedules, and can feel pointless. In order to work, the group needs to work on both the project as well as coordinating the team itself. If interpersonal relations and communication in the group are good, the team will work that much better. Unlike in high school or undergraduate studies where there were fewer ideas and less cooperation, at a graduate level it feels the complete opposite! I am really enjoying working with peers in my program because everyone is excited about the project, always bringing forward great ideas, and most importantly willing to work together. In conclusion, group work can be difficult and crazy at times (as it is for me right now), but once you figure out how to navigate through it, the results can be phenomenal.