Suggestions for project-based teams
There is a lot of research, both in education and in industry, supporting the value of group-based work. Groups often make higher-quality decisions and develop more creative products than solo workers do. And learning in a group means you get the benefit of encountering many different ways to approach an issue or problem, and of the growth that comes from having to explain your ideas to others. But, as we all know, group work can be tricky, and is not by default an inclusive experience — that is, one where each member feels they are valued and integral to the team's work. It's worth taking the time to think, individually and as a group, about how to build inclusivity into your team's experience.
The suggestions below offer some direction:
Show respect for people's individuality.
Do your best to use inclusive language.
Think about how the terms we use can reinforce traditional ideas of who has power in society (consider man-made vs. human-made), can "other" groups of people (foreigners vs. immigrants or international visitors), and can imply a lack of agency (disadvantaged area vs. area with a high poverty rate).
Also, try to be aware of how a comment might affect others. For instance, offhanded comments related to a disability (as in "I'm being dyslexic!") or mental health (as in "that's psycho" or "I'm so OCD today!") can reduce comfort levels of students who have personal experience with mental health concerns.
Pay attention to and building on what every group member says.
Be accepting of others’ subjective experiences.
Take a growth-oriented approach.
Help people get to know one another.
Start with collaboratively generated ground rules.
Setting expectations for group work together helps ensure that everybody’s concerns get addressed upfront. Plan to set aside time in your first session developing ground rules that everyone agrees to, and then type them up and send them to all members. We have a sample list of ground rules you can use as a starting point.
Sample Ground Rules for a Project Group
- Allow everyone a chance to speak. If you have been speaking more, step back to make room for others.
- Give everyone a chance to take a leadership role.
- If you can’t make a meeting or will be late, inform the group.
- Make a commitment to meet deadlines. If something happens, let others know as early as you can.
- No question is a dumb question.
Address conflict, productively.
- Focus on impact, not individuals. For instance, if you’re upset that somebody missed a deadline, explain the impact that this had on you (you had to delay other tasks, etc.), rather than criticizing the person for their tardiness.
- Try to identify the source. Is it about group process? Communication styles? Differing expectations or priorities? Identifying the root cause will help you work toward a solution.
- Return to your ground rules, and ask group members to consider whether they're being followed, or whether they should be updated.
- Try to have an open conversation about the conflict, and create ground rules for this conversation (for example, listening actively, avoiding interruption, focusing on issues and not people, etc.).
- Learn more about addressing group conflict.
Acknowledge that there are multiple ways to approach a problem or task.
If somebody takes an approach different from yours, be curious, and ask yourself, "What can I learn from this person?" The variety of perspectives and approaches that exist within a group enrich the conversation, benefiting everybody.