This semester, many of our undergraduate team members are registered for a course focusing on the research methods of Project Vox. Dana Hogan and Yasemin Altun are leading the students through a semester of learning the ways that we train students to write for a public audience, how to conduct research in philosophy, and how to collaborate on a group project. This is a reflection from the students about effective collaboration.
Hello Project Vox blog post readers! This week we are going to talk about strategies for effective collaboration. I think there are three pillars of effective collaboration: communication, commitment, and understanding.
Communication is perhaps the most important of these three pillars. Without effective communication, it is impossible to convey ideas to others, which severely hinders the quality and efficiency of collaboration. I recently watched a YouTube video titled “The Hidden Rules of Conversation” by Tom Scott. In the video, Tom Scott summarizes Gricean Maxims, which state that there are four maxims of conversation: Maxims of Quality, Maxims of Quantity, Maxims of Relation, and Maxims of Manner. The Maxim of Quality ensures that when people are in a conversation they are speaking honestly and truthfully. The Maxim of Quantity states that it is important to say all the necessary information, no more, no less. The Maxim of Relation states that when responding to someone in conversation it is important to keep your response relevant. The Maxim of Manner stays that people in conversation should communicate in a clear way that limits ambiguity and multiple interpretations. Tom Scott brought to light these Maxims to show the unconscious rules that govern the transition between language and conversation. I think that being reminded of these unconscious rules makes it easier for us to communicate more effectively.
The second pillar of collaboration is commitment. All group members must commit to the project to produce the best work possible. Commitment to a group can take different forms, but often requires that participants be willing to make small personal sacrifices for the group’s betterment. This may mean meeting at a time that you would rather be at the movie theatre with friends or studying for a test. Commitment means doing what you agreed to do when you agreed to do it. This of course doesn’t mean that unforeseen things can’t come up. Rather, that it’s crucial to communicate with the rest of your group members honoring your word as best you can.
The third pillar of collaboration is understanding. A good collaborator is understanding of the wants and needs of their other group members. Sometimes collaborators will not see eye-to-eye on the necessary next steps forward or even the overall vision for a project. It is important that collaborators work to understand others’ perspectives when disagreement arises, which it most certainly will. This is often taught to children as “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.” Adopting this practice allows you to better understand how another person developed their ideas. If you find it difficult to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, then consider extending a blanket level of understanding. Understand that they are people just like you, which means that they share a similar decision-making framework that includes both emotive and logical elements.
To summarize, I believe that the three core, interrelated features of effective collaboration are communication, commitment, and understanding. When commitment fails, lean on communication. When communication fails, lean on understanding.
Much too often, group projects get a bad reputation. For most dedicated students, the announcement of a group project is a stress-inducing one, for these projects often entail unequally distributed workloads, subpar communication, and disagreement. However, there are a myriad of strategies and ground rules that can be implemented to make group projects run much more smoothly. When first starting a group project, establishing clear ground rules, responsibilities, and goals is crucial, as ambiguity in these situations inevitably leads to issues further down the road. Some ground rules that I have found lead to successful group projects include creating an open and friendly work environment. The ability to listen to your teammates and treat them with respect, as well as the ability to feel comfortable speaking your mind is crucial to facilitating a successful project. Additionally, taking the time to hash out each team member’s strengths and weaknesses is extremely helpful, as it allows for a much more logical and efficient division of tasks based on who is most capable of creating the best product. Furthermore, this practice is very helpful as it is inevitable that each member will encounter obstacles as they work on their respective task; knowing where each team member excels can be extremely useful when seeking assistance on different portions of your project.
Another rather obvious—nevertheless crucial—aspect of collaborative work is communication. There is no such thing as too much communication when working with others. It is particularly important to keep everyone on your team up to date with what you’re doing and with your short-term and long-term goals. Although occasionally difficult, finding a suitable time to meet weekly with your team to review your individual work and plan out the next step in your project ensures that the team’s work is not drifting apart or lagging. Furthermore, this practice allows you to consistently have other sets of eyes on your work, so you can course-correct as you go based on feedback, rather than receive comments on a final product and potentially face a complete overhaul. Also, one of my favorite, perhaps unconventional, methods to promote effective teamwork is through team bonding activities. Although not necessary, I find that team members who consider each other as friends, and who see each other as more than just colleagues, tend to work better together. When possible, taking time outside of the actual project to engage in fun team activities can bolster the success of the project, as it facilitates a group environment that is open, trusting, and friendly. Overall, there is no set system that makes or breaks a group project, and different types of projects or different types of people will require different methods to make things work. However, in the end it is all really about communication and finding out what makes your team work best.
Group projects can be a pain sometimes—we have all probably experienced that. There’s always that one freeloader, or the person that always checks messages last minute, or worse—someone that wants to redo all your work the day before the project is due. Personally, I have never been a fan of group work. But, I recognize that for a project as large as Project Vox, it is necessary to develop skills for effective collaboration.
First, it’s important to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and plan group work accordingly. For example, it might be a better idea to ask someone who is good at public speaking to talk more during a presentation. Team members who have a good command of writing should write more or proofread for others. By fully utilizing each other’s strengths, a group can spend less time achieving the same—if not better—result than a team that does not do so. On a similar note, everyone in a team should have a clear understanding of their responsibilities. This prevents the undesired situation where one task is left undone because no one knows whose responsibility it is to do it.
Second, communication style also matters a lot in collaboration. At minimum, there should be no aggressive behavior between teammates. One should always strive to communicate smartly, meaning that one should think about the effects that certain feedback could have on other people. For example, I would try to be less harsh with a team member if I know they are a sensitive person. I would also try to not only communicate verbally but also through writing, such as email or text message, to clarify things that are particularly important. It could be daunting or troublesome to communicate with other team members, especially if the group is large, but it is very important to provide constructive feedback. Another thing that works for me is reminding myself that feedback on a group project is never personal. We could all receive suggestions for improving our work to aid the project. Therefore, I would suggest that we all try to have a growth mindset when facing criticism and try not to stress ourselves for things that are out of our control. Lastly, we all want our project to be as good as it could possibly be, so it doesn’t hurt to push a team member to do their work if it seems that they are not making as much progress compared to others. This ensures that everyone stays on the same track and supports camaraderie within the group.
We’ve all been there:
It is the final hours before the deadline for a big group project. The seconds continue to tick down as you stare at your phone, pleading internally with your teammates to finish their part of the project on time. One group member is missing, another’s work is looking subpar and far from finished, and the last one finished their part three weeks ago and has not checked in since. At this point, your internal reasoning begins: Do you finish the project yourself, ensuring that the work is done well? Or, do you let the group fail in order to make a moral point to your group mates? Situations like this are stressful, yet avoidable. There are many effective strategies of collaboration that could prevent last-second scrambles and ensure the enjoyable, effective completion of a team project. The major feature of effective group collaboration is communication. There are many routes a group can take in establishing a set of best communication practices. Most of these strategies are best implemented at the initial stages of the project, such that their repetition can reinforce the effective practice over time. First and foremost, the group should set a common meeting time. Another effective early-stage communication plan can be setting up a group chat to share edits or updates, so that no one is blindsided by any additions or revisions to the project. Clarity, understanding, and flexibility are also cornerstones of effective group communication, particularly in the context of group chats, where friendly online etiquette ensures an enjoyable team dynamic.
Another notable feature of well-functioning group dynamics is understanding. Group work can be stressful and often demands a significant amount of work. Even if uneven division of labor between group members may be apparent, one should never make assumptions about the other members’ lives, including speculations related to their mental health, family life, and/or workload. Instead, the group should practice a common empathy for outside factors that may affect each person’s ability to commit to a project. basic understanding of this principle goes a long way in ensuring that a group is cohesive, while also fostering an ultimately more friendly and productive work environment. When you approach an issue with a group philosophy, the group is more likely to succeed.