Group projects are and have always been, a part of work for most organizations. For some, they may be an irregular feature. For others, they are a day-to-day part of the job. And in today’s workplace, the complex dynamics of successfully integrating the skills needed demands even more group projects. Therefore, for career success, understanding how to be a successful part of a group project is critical. It’s also important for job seekers to understand how to effectively present their group or team accomplishments during an interview or on a resume.
#1 – Knowledge of Group Stages
The success of almost every group project begins, not just with understanding the assignment, but understanding the dynamics of any group or team project. The classic model of group stages, originally formulated by Bruce Tuckman, is something that anyone assigned to be part of a group project must understand. It is almost guaranteed that a successful group will advance through all the stages: forming, storming, norming, and performing. If a group is not successful, it might have been doomed by mistakes at one of the early stages of the process.
Briefly, at the “forming” stage, expectations should be clarified, and leadership needs to provide directions. Members of the group need an opportunity to become familiar with both the project and each other. The “storming” stage is perhaps the most important to understand. For some groups, it may last only a few minutes; for others, it may end only with the failure of the project. But it’s normal as the group struggles to clarify responsibilities, perhaps leadership roles, or dealing with the frustrations of slow progress. At the “norming” stage, members of the group more clearly determine their roles and protocols for success. At the final stage, “performing,” the primary work of the group is the focus – and the work simply gets done.
#2 – The Dynamics of the Group Stages
Understanding the real dynamics of the group stages can be extremely powerful. It’s not just knowing the stages. It’s recognizing some key dynamics. The first is that there’s no set time frame for each stage. A group may progress rapidly through the stages or get stalled at any stage. A group composed of members with a lot of experience – and success – may move very quickly through the early stages. A second key dynamic is that a change in the group’s composition, e.g., a major change in the project or a new member of the group, may spark multiple cycles for the stages. A third important dynamic is the value of training. It’s a perfect situation where experiential learning, “gamification,” can increase the skills of group members.
#3 – Leadership
It’s part of the stages, but leadership is so important that understanding its role in the success of a group project is critical. Group projects may have a clearly designated leader, or there may be an explicit or implicit assumption that the group will be self-directing. If you are placed in a leadership role on a project, you must understand that additional responsibility, including the possibility that some in the group may not like your leadership style. On the flip side, you may not like the leadership style if you’re not the leader. But you cannot let that interfere with your performance in helping your group achieve success on the project. As the group begins work, in that forming stage noted above, it is very helpful to clarify leadership concerns and expectations. Understanding the dynamics of different leadership styles is critical.
#4 – Strengths
Awareness of the value of focusing on strengths has increased over the last several years, with much credit due to Gallup, Marcus Buckingham, and Martin Seligman. The awareness of strengths can guide a group into focusing on what makes each member feel those strengths as they carry out the work. It can lead to the better assignment of tasks based on strengths not necessarily skills. It can lead to addressing weaknesses more effectively because, almost naturally, teams are better prepared to address them. If a person on the team has a particular weakness, e.g., presentation skills, the team can focus on assigning presentations to the member whose presentation skills are a strength.
#5 – Interpersonal Style
Most group projects involve meetings, frequently too many with their own set of complications and inefficiencies. One guarantee: team members will have different personalities, different styles for both receiving and presenting information. A simple example would be the extroverts who are likely to speak up quickly and often versus the introverts to might spend more time listening before speaking. It only takes a few minutes for team members to share information about personal styles. This openness will clearly enhance the effectiveness of the group.
If there’s an overriding message for successful group projects, it’s awareness and flexibility. The awareness is the importance of focus on the goals of the group and its process. The flexibility is the willingness of the group members to adjust to the interpersonal dynamics of the group.
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