How To Survive Virtual Group Work
November 30, 1999
- Team Player
Not everyone is a natural team player; as a result, not everyone enjoys group work equally. Sometimes it also depends on the activity that the team is engaged in. For example, you might have a wonderful time participating in discussions, chats, and other forms of information exchange; however, you may find that when you are assigned a group task, you might not enjoy working with the same individuals. Most virtual group work involves some common steps as follows.
- Group work In An Online learning Course
First, the professor will divide the class into groups of 2-4 individuals, though the number could vary. Each group is then given a project to complete. The project itself is quite big so that everyone has something to do. You will probably be required to present your output in the form of a digital presentation. What happens is that when you email your other group members, they might not reply for whatever reason and you end up doing all the work yourself. By the time you are done you are convinced that getting into group work in an online course is nothing but asking for trouble.
- Tips For A Better Group Work Experience
The most basic thing is to get to know your class mates. Unless you know them as more than just a name or an email address, it might be difficult to speak to them openly. There has to be a mutual respect and freedom among you no matter where you are interacting. Most of the time, when a project fails, it is because the people involved do not get along with each other. Sounds familiar, right? That happens a lot in life, as well!
- Understand The Topic And Divide Responsibilities
Understand what you have to do and divide responsibilities accordingly. Clarity of purpose is paramount to success. Do generalize your goals, but also make them as specific as you can. Collaboration means there should not be any scope of misunderstandings. In case of small mistakes, your group must be flexible enough to fix the problem and move on rather than bicker and argue over whose fault it is. Collaboration is also required because the final paper or presentation must not look thrown together but must rather seem like the work of a single individual--despite the fact that several people may have contributed to its completion. For working individuals, it must be clear how information is structured and how roles are divided. Apply some management techniques here to stay out of trouble.
- Good Planning
Good planning means you must be able to identify action-oriented tasks in addition to goals. Tasks are nothing but milestones that take you toward your final objective. It will happen occasionally that some tasks will seem so trivial and irrelevant that group members might skip them or consider them unimportant as far as the final goal is concerned. This is why every task must have an explanation that defines its importance to the person who is assigned to it.
- Breaking Down Your Project
Breaking down the project is helpful because then you can stake it in small steps. It also lowers the pressure of having a huge task at hand. When you plan it out in steps, with well separated deadlines for each phase of the project, you leave yourself enough breathing room so that the group does not feel overwhelmed with work. You must try and break your group work into a minimum of 3-4 major parts so that you only have to deal with a few tasks at a time--instead of having to face a to-do list with dozens of items on it. Having too many steps also makes it confusing to delegate tasks properly and set measurable milestones.
- Being Resentful
Despite all this planning, it is natural that group members might become resentful of the roles or tasks assigned to them, especially if they feel that the work load is not distributed evenly. Resentment might also grow towards other members who are perceived as not doing any work, but still want to share the credit. In every group there is also the danger of one individual becoming dominant and forcing all others to follow. This dominant individual could become the classroom bully; to further complicate matters, the individual would be completely surprised when informed of this perception. After all, they might only think they were trying to be disciplined and efficient. To solve this problem, you must equate each task with the type of work it will require and approximately how long it will take. Deadlines are crucial; even the smallest of tasks must have a cut off date or time by which every member must submit their work.
This brings us to time coordination. Being that everyone is on the Internet and group members could be working from different time zones, or even different continents, you must not use too short of deadlines. Even the smallest of projects is given enough time for this very reason. You must not push your group members to submit their work before a week. The best thing is to sit down and discuss each other's time availability so that an effective schedule can be worked out that suits all group members.
- Keeping In Touch
Communication is another thing that needs planning. Decide how you will keep in touch. If you plan to use chat or instant messaging, then set aside pre-planned and agreed-upon times when everyone can be present. Send the chat transcripts to a member that might miss a meeting for any reason.
- Dispute And Resolution Skills
You will also need some dispute and conflict resolution skills. We are all human; you never know the tendencies of your group members. Friction is inevitable when group members get frustrated, disagree with each other, and so on. The biggest fallout of this is that they stop communicating. Some people have naturally obstructive tendencies that need careful handling. Do not assume that you will get along with everyone; a better approach is to be have a plan set that you will follow if or when conflict arises.
- Overall Strategy
Your overall strategy must revolve around continuous evaluation of progress, while maintaining good communication. Have a plan that is flexible enough to handle changes as they happen.
Make sure you have a reward system built in so that every milestone feels like an achievement. This will encourage everyone to work towards both individual and group goals.