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Follow these tips for nurturing teamwork in group situations.

Business leaders commonly complain that college graduate students have not learned how to work productively in groups. In American classrooms, we tend to prize individual accomplishment, yet in professional careers we need to work well with others.Unfortunately, the terms "group work," "team work," or "committee work" can appear to be oxymorons--like the terms "honest politician" or "criminal justice." Many groups, teams, and committees simply don't work, despite the potential of individuals in the group.It's certainly true that many people waste time in group situations, politicking as opposed to defining and solving tasks. In writing classrooms, some students want to slide by, get the grade without doing the work; others are willing to do the work, but aren't sure how to proceed. While working in groups presents unique challenges, your success as a writer, leader, or manager is somewhat dependent on your ability to help others focus, communicate, and collaborate.

Eight Tips for Effective Groups

Try experimenting with the following strategies to help ensure the success of group work.

1. When the group first meets, select a project manager. This person provides leadership and helps forge consensus and a coherent plan. Being a leader is different than being an autocrat. If you are the leader, be sure to make fair assignments and let others own ideas and parts of the project. If people slack off, talk to them discreetly, giving them fair warning before speaking with other members or your teacher. Be concrete and specific about building consensus regarding shared goals, due dates, and processes.

2. All team members need to work to be positive. Be generous. Be respectful regarding members' feelings and needs. Focus on the strengths of the members in your group. Give more than you take. Ideally, collaborative projects shouldn't be about one person being in control. Decisions should be made by the group, not by one individual.

3. Respect different ideas and approaches. Listen before talking; be articulate about your position but flexible when others want to go another way.

4. Clarify evaluation criteria up front. Understand what your instructor wants, how the documents will be evaluated, and what the due dates are.

5. Beyond outlining the project, come up with a project management plan, outlining:

    • Responsibilities for each group member
    • Descriptions of the steps or tasks involved in implementation
    • Timelines for completion
    • Summaries of problems/opportunities you anticipate (and a list of possible solutions/recommendations)

6.  Draft a document planner for the group project. Write a research proposal and submit it to your instructor. Your proposal should identify what you want to do, how you want to do it, and when you can have it done.

7. Your instructor may request that you maintain individual journals or progress reports or keep a log of your contributions to the project. Alternatively, you can log about your collaborative efforts in a wiki, perhaps writingwiki.org. The advantage of using the wiki space is that it enables group members to enter their contributions on the same page. Teacher's appreciate the wiki format because each edit to a page is recorded by the wiki software, enabling the instructor to see when particular contributions were made. Teachers can account for individual efforts when you keep records and perhaps include a one-page summary about what you learned as a result of the collaborative experience. Create a Web portfolio for the project with an index or default page that links to major sections of the group project and relevant appendixes. Report appendixes should include links to the document planner, the document proposal, individual students' journals, and related resources.

8. Evaluate your peers' contributions; be sure to copy your peers on your evaluation.