Though group work often prompts a collective sigh among students, they may not yet realize that these projects provide a valuable opportunity to learn and practice many of the teamwork skills and practices that are used by businesses and organizations.
Instead of chafing against the prospect of group projects, they can focus on the advantages of working in groups, as described in Dr. Constance Staley’s FOCUS on College Success, Fourth Edition. We’ve summarized her points below.
When you work in groups, you can:
- Draw on the group’s collective knowledge. When you work independently, you’re limited to your own set of ideas and experiences. But, when you collaborate, your collective “knowledge base” allows you to approach a project from multiple angles.
- Learn from other people. In just about any group, you’re bound to encounter people with a range of skills, talents, and proficiencies that are different from yours. What’s more, you can teach others and pass along your expertise to them!
- Increase individual participation. It’s often difficult to speak up or stand out in a large group (such as a classroom full of other students, or an organization comprised of dozens—or hundreds—of employees). However, when you’re working on a smaller group or team, you’re more likely to have an opportunity to offer your contributions, exercise your skills, and make your voice heard.
- Build influence. Have you heard the phrase “there’s strength in numbers”? When you’re part of a group working together towards a common cause, you send a strong message: “many of us are dedicated to this issue.” It’s not as easy to dismiss the efforts and opinions of an organized, committed group of people.
- Recognize the strength of interdependence. Much as the many parts of an engine work together to get a car running, the members of a team rely on one another to get the job done. The awareness that others are relying on you can prompt a greater sense of responsibility that often results in a better end product.
- Experience the power of partnership. Engaging in discussions with a partner or a small group of people can help you reinforce what you’ve learned and clarify any questions you have.
- Discover the value of diversity. By working with other people whose experiences and perspectives differ from yours, you’ll come to see your project or problem in new ways. You’ll also gather insights that may not have come about had you stayed within your own frame of reference. (Staley, 335-337)
Next time your assignments for a class include group projects, remind yourself of these seven benefits, and see how they can reframe your attitude towards the project.
What’s your best example of a collaborative team experience? What did you learn from the process? Anything you’d advise students NOT to do? Share your stories in the comments section.