How to lead a group assignment and still be liked afterwards

October 22, 2015
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So here you are in a group assignment with three other people who don’t really want to be there either. They’re staring into space around the library table, coffees in hand, devices out and notepads ready with a neatly written title - and resounding, awkward silence.

You know this isn’t good. The truth is, at some point in your studies you’re probably going to be the one who has to get the ball rolling for a group assessment, and in doing so you will solidify your status as the unelected group leader. Here’s how to survive and keep friends afterwards.

You don’t need to change how you act

Don’t be afraid to give orders. Actually, it’s probably best not to look at it as “giving orders”: you’re simply allocating tasks to your peers, and that’s it. If you’re prone to a bit of anxiety now and then, you’ll probably doubt your decisions. Don’t do that.

The word ‘leader’ is charged with many cheesy, idyllic implications about the type of person who qualifies as one. Ignore all of them. You’ll only be viewed as an incompetent leader if you step back and tell people to find their own direction. By definition, that’s pretty much the only way you can fail.

Accept that there will be hiccups

Speaking of leaders and leading, you’ll probably think of that old saying: ‘Blame always lands on whoever is in charge’. You should listen to this one. Don’t ignore this like I said in the last paragraph; this is an important one. It’s important because it’s true, and it’s the number one thing to keep in mind whenever one of your group members or tutors comes to you in confusion. When you’re in charge, you’re the one who has to negotiate, explain and reassess whenever there’s a problem - that’s the gig. Don’t take it personally.

And don’t freak out if you get it completely wrong

Here, freaking out goes two ways: either at other group members or at yourself. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t be leaving things to the last minute, so the best thing to do when the stress runneth over -- like if four days of someone’s work ends up being worthless -- is to accept that you’re all only human. Do this before any and all disaster recovery and communication. I’m not saying shrug and walk away, but you shouldn’t put yourself on trial.

Be as transparent as possible

Whenever you’re directing something, let everybody know where you’re at whenever possible and explain everything honestly. Reply to messages, give as much forewarning as possible if you’re going to be unreachable for some time and explain why you’re doing things the way you are. This way you’re leaving the door open for polite and important feedback from group members, and if you need to pester somebody time and time again to actually contribute some work, it’ll let you do so without having the situation get heated.

Try to remember everybody’s schedules

To be honest, this is probably the single best way to keep everything sweet with your peers. Kathy does a marketing internship on Thursdays, and Terry and Blake are delivering pizzas in the evenings Monday to Wednesday. Seriously, write that stuff down. It’s the kind of note-taking you may feel uncomfortable with at first, but if you stick with it, every group assessment ever is smooth sailing.

Jonathon Davidson

Jonathon is studying journalism at Murdoch University in Perth.

Image: The Hobbit official Facebook page