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bigstock-Image-of-business-people-hands-13788209As a natural introvert, I really did not like having to do group work in school. My dislike only grew more as I got older and kept getting burned by others not holding up their end of the bargain. During one particular college course the four other members of my team vanished without a trace, leaving me to complete a semester-long project on my own in the last minute since no one else had done their part.

Do you have a group work horror story to tell?

If so, we’re not the only ones. A quick Internet search for “group work” leads to page after page of complaints. A lot of them resonate with exactly how I feel. Here are a few common objections that show up:

  • Many see group work as an opportunity to slack off, causing others to have to work more to make up the difference.
  • Oftentimes minimal effort on the part of some members lowers the quality of the overall output, diminishing the good work of others.
  • Group work in practice does not foster real collaboration, as everyone just splits up the assigned tasks and goes off on their own to work, assembling the final project piece-meal later.
  • Everyone gets the same grade or reward regardless of individual effort. I worked hard but you didn’t at all. Why should I be penalized with a mediocre grade and you get passed at all?

The sad fact for introverts is that you really can’t escape some form of collaboration whether in school or in the real world workplace. Despite all of my laments that university should be about training individual thinkers not “group-think operators” I never once got out of it. And, as my professors predicted, I indeed encountered many group projects in the workplace once I graduated.

I still feel like I produce my best work on my own, but the truth is, no one truly works in a vacuum. No matter your occupation or whether you work for a company or on your own, you will inevitably need to collaborate.

Ideas take inspiration from somewhere.

Even if you do everything from start to finish in your own sole proprietorship, you still need to answer to your clients and target market.

Accepting that you will eventually perform group work in some form or another, here are some tips to help ease your pain and get a collaborative flow going:

  • When the project begins, set solid expectations and consequences for not meeting them.
    If one of your teammates does not hold up to his or her responsibilities, then the rest of the group as a whole needs to address the issue. Many times people end up doing more than their share because they are afraid of speaking up and angering their other group members.
  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each team member to ensure that he or she can contribute in the most effective way possible.
    For example, find out who can write well, has great research skills, or has the editor’s eye to proofread the final draft. Oftentimes people feel a loss of control in a larger group. By assigning everyone a task in which they feel comfortable doing, you can ensure their positive participation and influence on the outcome.
  • Embrace collaboration and work as a group.
    Don’t just split up the work and fly off to separate corners. Hold discussions and really dig into the topic. Have everyone provide regular updates on their progress and what they have found. Allow opportunities for members to see how their part fits into the whole.
  • Don’t be afraid of disagreement. It’s ok to argue.
    The outcome of the discussion may lead to a better idea that transcends your original plans. Just remember to keep to the topic and not get hung up on conflicting personalities. Consider each of your teammates as a source of knowledge offering a unique perspective from which you can learn.

I still feel like I work best independently, but I now know how to deal with working in teams when the time comes. While I can’t promise that you’ll do a complete reversal and start loving group work, these tips will improve your experience when you find yourself in that situation as well. If you don’t believe me, maybe we can all get together in a group and work it out.