Group Projects Suck!

img_0272This is a reblog of a post from a couple of years ago.  It’s still pertinent today, maybe even more than ever…

When I was in college, almost every class had an element of working in groups or figuring out something within a team. I can’t tell you how many times I cringed, when I heard the professor describing the project and giving the criteria for grades. My issue? I was a pretty good student, obsessively driven to get an A in each class. I worked harder than most and didn’t want my grade to be reflective of folks who weren’t “putting in the work”. Continue reading to see how I survived.

There were a lot of fights and arguments during those projects. It was tough to align our schedules to have meetings outside of class. There was a time we literally fired someone from the group, because they weren’t participating. We’d have to redo goals because someone would go away for a week and work on the wrong thing. Sometimes the finished product wasn’t good enough. There were a multitude of issues. I became very frustrated at times, but still had to put out high quality work. I used to think, “if I could just do everything myself, this would be much better”. I never thought that I’d use anything I was learning. I just wanted to get through the projects.

Well, they say you can only connect the dots looking backwards. And as I look back, learning to work in groups was probably the most valuable part of my college experience. Today, as manager of a regional business unit, most of what I do involves working in groups. Not only that, but I genuinely need the group. As you go higher in organizations as a manager, you begin to manage experts. Your financial person may have a masters in accounting and can crunch numbers like crazy. Your HR guru does the people piece. Engineers build things. Lawyers keep you out of jail, etc. If you want the highest quality product or service, you need the cream of the crop in the room. You can’t do it alone. Getting these people to work together is how you earn your paycheck. As the leader, you are the glue for this team.

Below are 5 things I’ve learned about working in groups so far…

Define your vision and ultimate goal. – If you don’t have an understanding of where you want to go, how will you know which road to take? Seems simple, but the vision and ultimate goal is very important when it comes to focusing a group. Be specific. If you work for a t-shirt company, your obvious goal is to sell t-shirts. But there are many different aspects to this activity. Sales goals, revenue goals, business model, type, target audience, etc.

Figure out who’s on your team. – Studies like, Myers Briggs and Strength Finder can definitely educate you about yourself and your team. I scoffed at these “personality exams” at first, but now I see the value. They provide insight where you least expect it. Utilizing this information can help your team work in harmony, because they understand what makes each other tick. Instead of arguing, you begin to see the other person’s point of view.

Align the team around the vision. – This includes clear communication and a chance for feedback from team members. This creates buy-in, as the team now owns the idea. They will work harder for an idea they created, as opposed to an idea they have to support.

Put the right people in the right position. – Match team strengths to the task. Don’t just arbitrarily give out assignments. The information gathered about the personality of the team members will be valuable as you navigate task assignments. Studies, like situational leadership, help match leaders style of management with different types of employees. Sometimes you need to micro-manage, sometimes you need to be very hands-off.

Execute. – Implementation, follow-up and a measure of accountability are needed in the execution step. In order to be successful, rolling the final product out for consumption has to be done properly. The follow up ensures you are on track with established goals. By holding your team accountable and allowing them to hold you accountable, you create an atmosphere of trust. Yes, sometimes you have to fire people up or just plain fire them. If you don’t, the team loses confidence in your ability as a leader.

Back in college, I felt like working on group projects sucked. The funny thing is, it’s the only part of my college training that I use on a daily basis. If you are working on a group project and you plan on leading a large organization, hang in there and learn from the experience. There’s more to come and it gets better with experience.