Group projects. You either love ‘em (Oh, good—I get to hang out with my co-workers every Tuesday for the next four months!), or you hate ‘em (Oh, rats—I have to hang out with my co-workers every Tuesday for the next four months!). Whether you’re a manager, a supervisor, or an employee, chances are that you’ll take part in a group project (or three or four, or thirty) during your career. This means that you will need to know how to not only conduct yourself in group settings, but how to make meaningful contributions to the team, in order to achieve a successful outcome.
Group projects are often “high stakes ventures” for the company, meaning that there may be a lot riding on an undertaking (sometimes even monetarily), and its successful completion can either make or break the organization. That’s why it’s crucial to possess the skills and attitude necessary to do your best when called upon to participate in a group project.
Well-trained people can make a group project seem effortless, but how do you acquire the skills? For starters, project management seminars can help, as well as books, e-zines, and periodicals on the subject. And if you’re really serious, you can join a project management organization, such as one of my faves, PMI. (Go to their website and click on “Project Management Journal,” and you’ll find lots of great articles that you can download and read for free.) Or, if your budget allows it, you can enlist the help of a professional project management consultant. (Check out the website of Denise O’Berry, a Project Manager for Small Business: http://www.deniseoberry.com) One thing’s for sure: with almost countless resources out there, you definitely don’t have to go it alone.
There are many important factors for successful group project management, but here are a few fundamentals to get you going in the right direction:
1. Have a clear vision.
Every team member needs to be brought on board with the project, and this is best accomplished by having a very clear idea of what the finished product should look like. Is it a new employee handbook? The “blueprint” for a killer year-end holiday party? A thorough analysis of the company’s management structure? A detailed quarterly report for the board of directors? Each of these projects is obviously very different (and would be tackled using different methods), but for now, let’s just say it’s a new employee handbook. OK, so how long should it be? What kind of “voice” are you going to use—warm and fuzzy, or formal and official? Can you use some already-existing material, or do you need to throw everything out and start all over again? Gather as much pre-information about the project as possible, and you’ll have a much better idea of where you’re going.
2. Make a plan.
While this may seem obvious, it’s the first step any team should take when embarking on a group project—however, I’ve found that it’s often overlooked (or undervalued), and thus brushed aside. Instead, it’s essential to create an organized system that details the project specs, who’s responsible for completing each task (and by the way, you must appoint a leader, no matter how egalitarian your group wants to be), a timeline for both the entire project and its key components, and the date for which the project will be completed. Luckily, there are numerous project management tools out there on the Internet—and many of them are free! (One of my personal faves: Freedcamp. Easy to use, very detailed.) This will help keep everyone on track and won’t leave anyone confused about his or her role.
3. Learn to Communicate
If you’ve been reading my blogs and articles for the past gazillion years, you already know that, in my opinion, it all boils down to good communication—however, we all know that not all communicators are created equal(ly). No matter what your role—whether you’re the team leader or one of the participants—everyone must make clear communication their top priority. But what if you’re the private, work-alone type? What if you’re quiet and shy? What if you get all tongue-tied when speaking in a group? What if you simply don’t like hanging around other human beings? Well, if you’ve volunteered (or been recruited) to participate in a group project, you’re going to have to put it all aside and join the party. Talk. Participate. Share your ideas. Report your progress. And who knows? Perhaps you’ll discover a new you—one who enjoys teamwork and comradery.
4. Keep Track
Make sure you schedule regular check-ins with all members of the group and that you accurately track your progress. Although I am not one to normally recommend what are often called “standing meetings” (regularly scheduled meetings that automatically occur, whether you need them or not), this is one time when a standing meeting can be useful. If everyone on the team knows they must report their individual and collective progress every Tuesday at 1pm, rain or shine, guess what? Things get done! (Admittedly, they often get done on Tuesday morning, right before the meeting, but at least you’re moving forward!) Also, be prepared to make changes in your plans as your project progresses—flexibility is crucial, and creativity is a must. Statistically speaking, whether you’re organizing a party or building a bridge, approximately 80% of most projects come off as intentioned, and the remaining 20% involve changes to the original plan.
Surprise! Yes, the title of this article says “Four Tips for Success,” but I’m giving you a bonus tip! See how fun it is to receive something you weren’t really expecting? Well, that’s what a celebration feels like. So, way back, when you first plan your group project, go ahead and set up some sort of completion-celebration before you even begin. Build it right into the plan. (And if your project is going to take a long time, then interim celebrations are definitely in order—no one wants to go too long without breaking out the dusty party hats!) You may think celebrations are silly, or just for kids, but celebrating victories should be an integral, planned part of any human enterprise. Your celebration doesn’t have to be big or expensive—just some sort of acknowledgement that you, as a group, are the awesomest gang ever assembled on the planet. (Because you are, aren’t you?) So think ice cream…
Now, get out there, everyone, and rock your next group project!