Brace yourselves, group work is coming

Working with your fellow students doesn’t have to be a horror show. Utkarsh Sood offers a formula for group work success.

Whether you’re just starting your engineering degree at UNSW or you’ve been here for a while, you’ll know the terrified feeling when I say the next two words: group work. *Cue screams*.

It’s all right. Take a few deep breaths and, once you’ve recovered from your initial shock, let’s take an engineer’s approach to this problem.

If we break it down to its most basic elements, group work success is fundamentally determined by the given assignment and the people you work with. If we weigh each factor appropriately, we can start to form some sort of mathematical model for group work success.

With that, I now propose to you the ‘Group work success’ formula: a mathematical measure of group success for any group assignment.

The model has two parts: the assignment and the group factor. You already know that assignment difficulty and marking variability play a big part but they can’t really be controlled; however, the group factor can, as it depends on the people in your group: their reliability, the quality of work they deliver and how well the group can work together. So, you simply test multiple people in the formula above and your most successful iteration will be the one that gives the highest value for group work success (G). 

But… as much as we would love to believe that such an equation exists, in reality, measuring group performance is a much more tedious task. But it isn't all guesswork either. In my three and half years, I have been in excellent groups, terrible groups and the fifty shades in between. In the most productive groups we worked to each other’s strengths, we all had something different to offer and we all had the same drive and goals.  In one of my most successful semesters, my group achieved full marks in all of our group assignments and a final mark of 100 in one of our design courses. So, I promise the following advice has some merit:

  1. Find your group – Start as early as possible, especially in first and second year, and find the people you work best with and that work best with you.
  2. Communicate – This is one of the most vital factors to team success. You need to ensure the group knows exactly where you are up to with your tasks and vice versa. If you can’t complete a task on time, then don’t be afraid to tell your team. It is better that they know so they can reassign some of your workload to get the job done!
  3. Stay organised as a group – It seems so obvious, but many groups do not have any way of staying organised. Everyone needs to be on the same page and the best way to do this is to have weekly organisational meetings to allocate work, establish a timeline and ensure everyone knows what is happening.
  4. Check each other’s work – Doing this ensures that no one gets left behind and you all learn the core content from the assignment. It also reduces the chance of mistakes in your submissions. You’d be surprised what small mistakes your group can collaboratively pick up on!
  5. Choose the same group for multiple assignments – This is, by far, one of the most constructive ways to manage your workflow. In doing this, scheduling time to work together is made much easier, you can complete tasks from multiple assignments in the same sessions and the added variability in tasks makes the work that much more bearable. 

In the end, group work is unavoidable no matter what career path you take. Often in the workplace, you don’t get to choose who you work with, so you need to learn how to work effectively in any group. Take university group assignments as an opportunity to master group work dynamics and, in doing so, acquire an invaluable life skill. 

 Many say patience is the key to working with your group.

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