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5 strategies for making group projects less annoying for everyone

We all know the pain of a badly organized team project. If you’re working collaboratively, make sure you’re doing these essential things.

5 strategies for making group projects less annoying for everyone
[Source images: Israel Sebastian/Getty Images; Banphote Kamolsanei/Getty Images]

Business is a team sport. Almost nothing important happens because single individuals complete entire projects. Instead, it requires coordinated groups to execute anything complex.

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The difficulty most of us have navigating this world of teams is that the education that prepared us for the workplace in the first place is largely an individual sport. You may have had a few classes that involved doing occasional group projects, but much of your education required you to learn knowledge and skills and to do well on reports, tests, and other projects by yourself.

Consequently, when you finally do have to work together in a group, you probably do it inefficiently. Here are a few easy things to do to that will make your team projects flow more smoothly.

Assign clear roles

Probably the biggest mistake that teams make is that they do not assign clear roles and responsibilities to team members. There needs to be a team lead and a project manager. The team lead is responsible for ensuring that everyone has an assignment and that the team is aligned on the goal of the project and the way that success will be evaluated. The project manager is responsible for ensuring that team members meet key deadlines and that resources are available so people can complete tasks.

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Everyone else on the team needs to have clear roles related to specific aspects of the project. They should know what is expected of them, and when they are supposed to complete elements of the project in order to keep things on track.

Define a decision structure

If every project went 100% smoothly, teamwork would be a breeze. Inevitably, though, things change. A client might shift some project requirements. An approach that everyone thought would be successful may fail to achieve the desired result. Team members might just disagree on the best way to approach a particular aspect of the task.

In order to keep these hiccups from derailing a team project altogether, it’s useful to agree in advance how disputes will be resolved. In general, it is helpful to start with a discussion, but if there are legitimate differences of opinion about how to proceed, what then?

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You might empower the team lead to decide for the group. You might do it by majority vote. You might assign team members with particular expertise the responsibility to make decisions in particular areas of the scope of the project. The main thing is that once you have chosen a strategy for resolving disputes, stick with it.

Track progress

Coordinating a group requires having some way to track what tasks have been completed. There are lots of great software packages out there for project management–and if your organization already has a license for one, then I recommend making sure someone on your team can set up a project in it.

But, even if you don’t have dedicated project management software, a shared spreadsheet can serve the same function. You want to have a list of the key tasks to be completed and who has primary responsibility for those tasks, along with deadlines and information about what other tasks depend on the completion of a particular piece of work. People should update the status of their parts of the project regularly and mark the date when particular components are completed. The project manager can take responsibility for tracking the status of the project and ensuring that the record remains current.

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The advantage of having a document that tracks progress is that it enables everyone to be aware of how things are going. In the absence of such a document, momentum on the project can stall, because people unaware of the efforts of their teammates. In addition, the progress sheet becomes a resource people can check regularly, which keeps the project on the top of minds of all team members.

Use shared documents

It is important to ensure that all team members have access to the latest development on a project. The best way to ensure that happens is to use a shared drive in which everyone on the project has access to the latest versions of project files and in which everyone can edit (or at least read) all of the documents available for the project.

As obvious as this sounds, I have been part of many projects in which teams try to get by emailing documents around, which leads to a lot of wasted effort finding the latest version of documents and sometimes to having several people make edits on the same document at the same time.

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Have brief check-ins

I’m not a fan of having meetings for the sake of having meetings. But, quick project check-ins can be valuable. The aim is to schedule just 15 minutes for people to get together. Go through the project progress document and have people taking the lead on aspects of the project talk quickly about how it is going, their next step, and what information or other resources they need to proceed. These quick meetings can often bring to the surface problems that might take longer to identify without a meeting.

In addition, these meetings can be motivating for the team. People with tasks that are on the schedule will want to have something to report when it is their turn. That can drive them to push their part of the project forward when they might otherwise have let it sit.

Finally, these meetings enable the project lead to have a clear sense of how the project is going, which can be valuable if the lead has to report on how it is going to others in the organization. These meetings can also help the project lead to advocate for more resources if they are necessary to get the project completed.

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