Surviving Group Projects: How to Ensure You Don't End Up Doing All the Work

By Lorena Roberts on January 10, 2019

Now that your fall semester has ended and you’re relaxing at home over the holidays, you might be thinking about what you can do to improve your college experience in the coming semester. You might be reflecting on various experiences: you partied too much before finals week, you could have studied a little harder for anatomy, and you took on too much of a leadership during every single group project. 


Group projects are tough for some college students and easy for others. There are several types of group project members:

- The creative one: this is the group member who’s trying to make your presentation elaborate and pleasing to the eye. They spend all their time editing how your presentation looks instead of focusing on the content. 

- The lazy one: this is the group member who doesn’t answer your group text until the middle of the night — or even a few days later. They don’t have any ideas to contribute to the group, and overall, they’re just waiting on the rest of you to take over.

- The one who claims they work full-time: maybe they really do, but this is the group member who can never meet up because they “have to work” and there’s no way they can get out of it. They miss group meetings, even class sessions, and there’s no way you can make their schedule work with anyone else’s.

- The one who is completely clueless: this is the group member who shows up to class and meetings but doesn’t have much to contribute. They’re happy to do what you need done, but you have to show them exactly what you need them to take care of. They aren’t very confident in their own work, so they’re constantly asking/needing someone to go behind them and “clean it up.” You spend more time showing them how to do their part than if you’d just done it yourself.

- The control freak: this is the group member that’s proactive, sets deadlines, and then ends up doing the whole thing by themselves because it’s just not up to their standards for anyone else to complete any part of the project themselves.

So which group member are you? Maybe you flounder from being one type of group member to another, depending on what class you’re in and who your group members are. If you’re reflecting on this past semester and you’re remembering one too many group projects where you ended up doing all the work, here’s how to avoid making that mistake this spring:


1. Establish communication early on.

Whether it’s a big group message, GroupMe, or Facebook messenger, for crying out loud, establish some sort of communication early on. It’s probably best to do this when you meet as a group for the first time. Once you have a way for everyone to communicate, you’ll at least be able to move forward in the process of completing a group project without feeling like it’s all falling on you. I know how it feels to be sitting in your apartment the night before a project is due, watching the Google document intently, and then just jumping in and completing it because you’re tired of waiting on everyone else. If you have a way to text or message everyone else in your group, you can settle some of your anxiety with communication.

2. Try to agree on deadlines and “group roles”

If you all agree on small deadlines, you might not feel as overwhelmed when it gets closer to the due date for your project. The key is to avoid giving your group members deadlines, and instead, solicit ideas of deadlines that they think are doable. If you pretend like it’s their idea, they won’t label you as the control freak in the group.

It might be easiest to split up work for group projects by slicing up labor into categories, or roles. If you have to write a group paper, assign sections. If you’re presenting a powerpoint, assign slides. The more divisive you can make the work, the less overwhelmed you’ll feel when it’s time to pull it all together.

3. Reach out to your professor early on if your group members are lazy.

There’s nothing wrong with a quick email to let your professor know that you’re struggling with your group. It’s much easier to have that conversation at the end of the semester as to why your presentation was terrible if you have documentation from early on that you were having a tough time motivating your group members. Make it clear that you aren’t trying to throw your classmates under the bus, but that you’re simply trying to keep them in the loop as to what’s going on between you and your group members.

Document everything: If there’s one piece of advice I can give you, it’s to document everything. If you have messages from a member who cancels at the last minute and doesn’t show up to your meeting, keep a screenshot of it. Remember: you are paying for this education, and you are working hard to make the best grade possible. Don’t let other people’s laziness stand in your way.

Lorena graduated from The University of Tennessee in Knoxville last December with a BA in Honors Psychology. After some serious soul-searching, she's decided to pursue a Master's in teaching in order to teach middle school math! In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her Whippet mix, Gio, at the dog park and binge watching Netflix with endless cups of Hot Cocoa.

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