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Engineering Guide: Working in Groups
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Designate a leader - someone has to take the lead or your group will flounder instead of moving forward. The leader should read everyone’s input and then sum it up and make a suggestion for how to move forward.
Set a shared target - decide as a team how you will approach the project - what style, theme, visuals or presentation aids will you use? This group decision is important because it allows you to prevent duplicated effort, and be very clear on workload division because everyone is CLEAR on the end goal. Part of arriving at this decision involves getting to know your colleagues - what are your strengths and weaknesses?
Make the most of your teammates' strengths- if you work together using everyone’s strengths, you are more likely to reap the rewards of a job well done. How can the learning and working styles of your colleagues, and yourself, best be suited to the task? As a group - you need to decide where your collective strengths and weaknesses are - and utilise these as wisely and efficiently as possible.
Plan a timeline and divide the workload - Often, it is difficult to divide workloads equally, so it might be more realistic to aim for a strategic distribution. For example, if a group member has excellent computing skills, it may be better for that person to be responsible for putting all the materials together. Part of being a professional person in a team means we have to accept that at times, we may carry a larger percentage of the workload than our peers. However, this quota rotates. For example, Tom may have to carry extra shifts at work and cannot contribute so much this week. However next week he is freer than Sarah. Negotiation of project workload needs to remain flexible. How will you 'project manage' your task most efficiently?
Budget - Sometimes, producing a piece of work requires money. You may have to buy materials or print a lot of paper in colour. Decide right at the outset how much to spend, and be considerate of each other's finances. Be resourceful and you will not have to spend much.
Come prepared - Take responsibility for your input/actions within the group. Make sure that you bring any summarised readings, questions, concepts which need to be clarified - make sure you complete ALL work you said you would, or notify team members early if you cannot. Be prepared for group dynamics at team meetings also - have your 'effective/patient communicator' cap on. Remember: this is your training for professional life, where you will encounter different styles, thought systems, types and behaviour that you will not always agree with. Being in a difficult team is a good opportunity to start developing strategies. We cannot always be fully prepared beforehand, and some situations require experience, reflection and practice in order to become good at. This is part of your training, and part of why we have group work assessment.
Come clean - If you don't feel confident in meeting the timeline, let everyone in the group know. If you are struggling with the task, let the group know too. Honesty helps and is often appreciated. This can be difficult also - but must be negotiated. If you do have to negotiate tasks or time lines - aim for clarity, and bring something to the table with you: What are you good at? How can you best help the group? What can you do to reinforce your role within the group in a different way
Making contact and meeting deadlines - get multiple forms of contact information and update each other regularly via email, phone or face-to-face meetings, and make it a habit to meet deadlines. Regular communication keeps everyone in the loop, and can be quite motivating. Professional practice includes meeting (or negotiating) deadlines and consistent communication. Use the form of contact for each member of the group that is most likely to work.
Manage group time - avoid time-wasting, interruptions or distractions, and turn off mobile phones. Stay on-topic during the group's time. If you have group members who find connecting to be an important part of the process - manage group time to incorporate this. It may help to develop a group meeting agenda, and a group chair who is responsible for keeping the meeting in line with the agenda. You can begin the meeting 15 minutes early to include the needs of connectors.
Set group rules - take turns talking, listen to everyone's ideas, encourage and support each other, indicate your agreement with someone else's suggestions, extend upon another member's ideas - all without negative criticism. If difficulties arise, appoint a chair for the group, remember to highlight the strengths of team members rather than the weaknesses. Remember you all have the same goal in mind - gaining a good result. A good result is not only a grade - it is also developing your communication, negotiation and teamwork skills.
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