Guest Column: Conflict Resolution — How to survive group projects

Haleigh McGill

Conflict Resolution:

How to Survive Group Projects


It’s that time of year again.  You’ve been assigned yet another group project.

When you work in a group, whether the professor assigned your group-mates or you formed one with all of your best friends, it can be difficult not to butt heads over different ideas, levels of effort, and expectations.  Here’s some tips for fostering harmony within your group:

Set clear boundaries and expectations.  Are you a morning person who’s asleep by 9pm?  Prefer to start your group meetings at midnight?  Only have 30 unscheduled minutes every day?  Be clear with your group-mates about your needs, boundaries, and preferences early on.  It can feel awkward to start off by making demands, but you can present your needs or preferences in a civil way (“I’m busy until 7pm every day, does it work for you all to meet at 7:30?” vs. “If you meet at 6pm I’m not coming”). 

Establish responsibilities and roles early on.  If you have a design genius, an extrovert who doesn’t mind talking in front of people, and someone who’d rather do more behind-the-scenes research, you might have the perfect formula for a successful project.  Figure out what each person’s strengths and weaknesses are so you can plan accordingly.

Choose your battles.  It can be frustrating to envision the perfect plan for your project, only to learn that your group members are on a totally different page.  Yet, part of why group projects are assigned in college is to help you figure out how to compromise.  It might feel important to “win” by forcing everyone to go along with your plan, but the group might lose their motivation to contribute to the project if it’s all about you.  Which parts of your plan or vision are worth fighting for?  Which could you modify or exchange with another group-mate’s ideas? 

Plan things early.  Stress makes it hard to effectively communicate and manage conflicts.  It’s a lot easier to hear each other’s ideas and plan presentations when the group isn’t desperately working to get things done the night before they’re due.  Planning ahead also means there’s wiggle room if someone needs help fulfilling their group responsibilities.

Look at the whole picture.  It’s easy to focus completely on your part in the presentation and ignore the rest, but your grade depends on the whole thing turning out well.  Reach out to group members who seem to be struggling with their responsibilities – think about how to approach this tactfully so the struggling group-mate doesn’t feel attacked.  At the end of the day, your professor will see the final product and might not even know who did what, so try to work together to get the result you want instead of doing your part and calling it a day.

Group projects will never go away.  You may detest them, but there aren’t many jobs you could have after college that don’t entail some level of working with other people.  College is a great time to develop your interpersonal skills while the stakes are lower than trying to seal a $1 million deal or keep an innocent client out of jail.  If you do find yourself struggling to deal with group-mates, come visit one of CSU’s Conflict Resolution staff in 325 Aylesworth Hall NW.  We can provide one-on-one coaching and help you brainstorm solutions.  Whatever the conflict, we are here to help!