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How to Survive (and Thrive!) Completing a Group Project

You arrive at class to learn that your teacher has assigned a group project. Your heart drops. You know that one of two things will happen: 1) you will have to do most of the work or 2) the bossy student in the group will do everything.

For many students, working on a group project can be a nightmare. Not only is it hard to divvy up the work evenly, but it can also be impossible to meet everyone's expectations. It can also be difficult to find time to meet to complete the project, not to mention to avoid coming to blows over opposing views, ideas, and abilities.

To learn how to get along in a group, let's look at a few examples of successful working groups

Four Successful Groups to Learn From

1. The A Team

When you think about ants, you probably just think about them as creatures that invade your picnics and steal your food. However, the way that ants cooperate is a wonderful example of how humans can cooperate to complete a group project successfully.

Living in a colony, each ant works to benefit the group. Young worker ants start by looking after the eggs that are laid by the queen and eventually graduate to foraging for food. When a forager finds food, it leaves a communication trail of pheromones for its fellow ants to follow.

Ants even organize themselves into groups to move a morsel of food much larger than themselves. First, a leader ant directs the group to move. Once all the ants have been mobilized, they follow instructions and do their share of the work. Clearly, they recognize that they must work together to move big items. For ants, being small is no barrier to moving mountains.

2. The B Team (or the Bubble Net Group)

It isn't just tiny creatures that cooperate to get things done. Humpback whales work in groups as part of an elaborate feeding technique known as bubble netting.

For this group project, whales swim below a school of herring and slowly begin their ascent to the surface, all the while blowing bubbles from their blowholes. The bubbles form a net that forces fish to the surface. The whales then surface with their mouths wide open and ready for a feast.

For humpback whales, working together means that everyone eats together, too!

3. The G Team (or the Google Team)

So far, we've looked at only successful groups of animals. However, there are also examples of successful groups in the business world. Google, which is now known as Alphabet Inc., is one of the most successful companies in the world. Because the company wanted to know how to create the perfect team, it began a research effort called Project Aristotle to discover why some teams achieve great success while others accomplish only chaos.

The researchers reviewed academic studies and the dynamics of groups within Google. Although no patterns could be discerned about what made a group function well together, the researchers determined that the key factor to a group's success was a set of norms or rules that guided the group's behavior. These norms affect how group members treat and interact.

They also found that groups in which the members communicated equally and were sensitive to the needs of others were the most successful. Clearly, successful groups require respectful communication.

4. The S Team (or Sports Teams)

There are many other examples of successful groups of people working together. Just think about sports teams. Whether it is in football, baseball, or rugby, certain aspects make for great teamwork.

For example, successful teams usually have great communication. Each player understands the particular role that he or she plays, and all the players work together to achieve a common goal: win!

The most successful teams also have an effective coach who makes sure that everyone knows that they're expected to work hard to help the team succeed.


10 Strategies for Thriving in Groups

What can we learn from all these examples? There are certain things that each member of a group can do to ensure that the group will be successful.

Let's look at 10 strategies you can use to work efficiently in a group. By following these strategies, not only will your endeavor be successful, but you may even find it enjoyable!

1. Ensure open communication.

For a group to function properly, every member needs to be able to communicate freely. This means that each person should be capable of explaining his or her ideas and expressing his or her feelings. Team members also need to feel comfortable speaking without worrying that they will be judged. In Project Aristotle, this was called being psychologically safe. However, since communication is a two-way street, team members also need to listen carefully to one another.

2. Have a clear purpose.

Whether the purpose of working in a group is to move an object, catch fish, or score a goal, a successful group must know what it needs to accomplish. The simpler the goal, the greater the chances that everyone will understand it and know what is expected.

3. Assign roles.

There's a saying: "Too many cooks spoil the broth." For a group to work, there needs to be a leader, an organizer, a presenter, and various researchers and writers. Everyone needs to understand the role that they will play, what they need to do, and how they will do it. In this way, members can be held accountable for their tasks and understand how their work will contribute to the success of the project.

4. Challenge without overwhelming.

Everyone loves a challenge. Research has shown that, when working in groups, people who are assigned difficult tasks in group projects become more committed to the project. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each group member can help ensure that everyone is challenged without feeling overwhelmed.

5. Cover all the bases.

This doesn't pertain only to baseball! Members in a group have different strengths and weaknesses. When members assume roles that play to their strengths, they'll cover others' weaknesses on the team.

6. Be dependable.

For a group to work, everyone must understand what's expected of them and then work to the best of their ability to meet or exceed these expectations. When there's an understanding that each member is dependable, everyone can concentrate on their own tasks and not worry about anyone else's.

7. Be dynamic.

Issues may arise that require changing something about the group. A successful group recognizes when something isn't working and rectifies the situation.

8. Set deadlines.

Setting timelines for specific tasks will help the group stay on track. Deadlines also make sure that each member pulls his or her own weight.

9. Solve problems.

In any group, problems are bound to arise about the quality of work or the lack of effective communication. For a group to be successful, it needs to have guidelines for dealing with these problems. Try to work out any conflicts respectfully.

10. Be positive.

While all group members should work hard and be responsible, there's no rule that says working in a group has to be a terrible experience. By staying positive, each member can make group work fun and enjoyable.


It's likely that you've experienced the challenge of working as part of a dysfunctional group. Most people have! However, by following these 10 strategies, and by learning how some of the most successful teams operate, you may not only find yourself surviving group projects but thriving in them as well.



Image source: violetkaipa/Adobe Stock

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