Working in Groups
Working in Groups

In the following, I’ll briefly expand on the key points for achieving success when working in groups. As a result of the complex and dynamic nature of human interactions, you may find working in groups a challenging issue. In fact, the coordination and agreement required by groups is a research topic by itself (see, for instance, this research about the effectiveness of work groups in mathematics.) But the powerful rationale behind groups is the divide-and-conquer approach: a bigger workforce may lead to bigger results (but not always, and in some fields, such as software engineering, it may easily be the opposite.) In this respect, I’ll propose 10 aspects we should strive for when working with other people. You may find this discussion useful for the college, the office or life in general.

  1. The Right Choice: If you are the leader, select the best people for the work. Not necessarily your friends or the nice people, but the best people for undertake all the work at hand. If you yield to the temptation of choosing members solely according to your personal preferences, you are lacking in abilities to be a leader. Try to follow this advice, and you will avoid a lot of headaches later. However, even if you are not the leader of the group, you will probably have some area of the project under your responsibility: therefore, you are also a leader, and you should behave as such.
  2. Balance: As a leader, you must behest and grant. That’s the base for responsibility. Then, you should balance the ask/answer messages between members of the group under your care. Besides, you should control the interaction between your group and other groups. As a rule of thumb, do not hesitate to ask firmly for the right things, but remember you must also give your best effort.
  3. Positive Competence: Individually, aim to preserve the positive competence of the group. The group must strive for achieving the best results. Nevertheless, if failure rises, do not blame others for your faults, nor destructively criticize the work of your teammates. Your work’s quality may be better than other people’s, but you do not have to brag: believe me, that’s hideous. We are humans, with faults and debilities: respecting your mates is the best way to ask for respect for yourself. In short, the key for positive competence is a mixture of humility, communication and passion for the work.
  4. Communication: In respect to communication with your peers or bosses, be honest but not too honest. As a leader, you do not have all the answers, but you know how to find the answers, and how to help others find the answers. Remember, today’s leaders are wise listeners. Additionally, I have a very good tip for you: learn to remember names. Communicating with people remembering their names increases your aura of “I care for everybody in my group”. That’s very important. And finally, if conflict presents, concentrate in your respiration: this way, you will stay calm.
  5. Enjoy accomplishments, learn from mistakes: When the group succeeds, recognize that and enjoy your triumphs. That’s a thing too many people forget. Come on, celebrate your milestones. But if the group somehow fails, identify the causes of such failure, and act quickly to cut the root of the problem.
  6. Utmost care for detail: Most of projects’ troubles stem from little details. Often, such tiny matters lie underneath an apparently bigger problem. Learn to spot such knots, solve them, and you’ll see the group’s work to advance steadily forward.
  7. The process is, sometimes, more important than its results: As I commented previously, we must never forget that, in life, milestones or stages are not as important as the paths and transits between such stages. Live the path, accept results.
  8. Avoid excess of meetings: Meetings are fine for agreeing to very specific points and for reviewing the group’s progress. Obviously, the first activity of the group will be a meeting in which goals are to be set. But restrict further meetings to reviewing and little corrections. If the group is having too much meetings, it means the goals are badly defined and you are wasting your time.
  9. Toward the end of the project, everything tends to become rushed and problems get harder: Accept it and cope with it. It’s a fact of life. This is were major milestones occur, and stress surges. Specially, remember and apply advices 4-6.
  10. After the work is done, review what went fine and what could have been better: Arrive to your conclusions. Detect if you have some skills to master or hone. And continue to the next challenge. The cornerstone of mental health is the ability to “switch the trigger” and opening your thoughts to the new experiences. Past projects, with their good and bad aspects, are that: past.

Finally, help others and ask for help when you feel tired or overwhelmed. Remember that, when working in groups, you’re never alone.