The Best Ways To Deal With Challenging Group Members

Say it with me… I hate group work!

I’ve never met anybody that’s said differently. Group work is inevitable for many academic programmes. It’s one of the reasons that mature students choose to enroll in online courses. Most part-time [mature] students prefer to be in complete control over the quality of their project submissions and their final grade.

The truth is, it’s difficult to trust anyone other than yourself when your pass or fail depends on their contribution – or at least can be affected by it. This is a real issue for me. I am not alone in saying that I have trust issues because of group members 😥

Still, I’ve been in MANY group projects and I have always come out victorious in the end. Full disclosure, for every group project I have been involved in, I got an A; well, WE got MY A. I still hate group work though. I just found a way to deal with the group members and use my people skills to my advantage.

In this post, I’ll suggest 7 ways to deal with challenging, lazy or unresponsive group members while understanding how to deal with group dynamics practically.

Let’s go.

#1 Set Expectations And Determine Team Guidelines

From the moment you have your first group meeting, set your expectations. By this, I mean to be brutally honest about what the group should be aiming to achieve. You want to avoid or lessen any opportunity to encounter conflicts.
In group projects, conflicts arise for several reasons: personality differences, schedule clashes, poor or lack of communication, uncommitted or uninvolved group members… the list can fill up a scroll.
You should talk them out. You know, like the best ways, times and mediums to communicate with each other.
But here’s the deeper approach – expose your strengths and weaknesses. Yes, initiate the conversation about what (and how) contributions can be delivered. This will include the best ways, times and mediums to communicate with each other, methods to keep focused and overall constraints of the group. I also recommend that you discuss what the ramifications would be if someone does NOT meet their deliverables.

Here are some invasive, but insightful, questions to ask:
Who is the academic procrastinator? Who has problems citing references? Which one of you is very good at research? Are you a horrible public speaker, but good at graphics?

Read: How to beat academic procrastination in a practical way

These are the REAL questions that should be asked. Once the team knows what skills can be optimised and what shortcomings can be mitigated, there is a greater chance that people won’t feel “set up” when that final submission is compiled for submission.

And on that note…

#2 Create Group Roles And Responsibilities

Roles? Yes, groups have roles. Let me suggest some for you to consider:
Team Leader – Delegates, keeps everyone on track, does most of the correspondence between the group members and with the lecturer.
Recorder – The one who records agreements, ideas, submissions.
Time-Keeper – pays attention to deadlines for contributions, drafts and final due date.
Editor – The one responsible for refining the final version of the submission to meet the grading criteria.
Researcher – Someone responsible for compiling the information and data necessary to populate the document or support the presentation.
Lead Presenter – The person that can carry an oral presentation best.

Your group can create its roles and responsibilities. Also, if it’s a heavy project, members can accept roles and contribute to other aspects of the project. It’s a good place to start, especially after discussing expectations and hashing out the team guidelines.

Please note, that group members should also commit to giving constructive critiques and motivating other team members whenever possible. If someone falls short, never make assumptions. Always seek to know and understand a situation before jumping to conclusions. Remember, it’s a short time-frame for a group project, you most likely will not have to live with or work with these individuals after. If you do, ask the ancestors for strength.

#3 Delegate And Coordinate By the Assignment Rubric

It’s a nifty trick I’ve used since I discovered its magic! There is always a rubric for assignments. This is how your lecturer measures how to grade your submission. So, aim for the “A” block. Identify the key areas of focus and follow up with the roles and responsibilities derived from the set expectations and group guidelines. It’s a sure way to shoot for that A!

Here’s a little ninja trick. If you see someone not doing quite as good as you would like them to do, ask another group member (who you believe can deliver) to just do a little work on their part. Be civil. Tell them that a little bit more information is needed on X and ask them if they won’t mind giving you a paragraph or two on the topic (if they can). This can supplement the word limit for the project, with the right information.

#4 Use Teamwork Tools

To do your work, enter the virtual space that makes collaboration easy. Common platforms include Whatsapp groups and Google Docs.
There are alternatives, however.

Telegram is a great alternative for Whatsapp. It’s like Whatsapp on steroids.

There are nice alternatives for Google Docs. I recommend these two FREE options:

  • DropBox Paper – Uses a DropBox account, accessible on all devices, one of the best alternatives to Google Docs.
  • ONLYOFFICE – Compatible with Microsoft, connects with cloud storages like Google Drive and DropBox, can be used online, offline and on iOS and Android.

#5 Set Ghost Dates (and review dates)

It’s always a good thing to set what I call “ghost dates”. What’s that you ask? Well, don’t focus on your due date – ever. The due date should be considered a grace period date or an extension date. If your project is due in 2 weeks (14 days), set the group due date for at least 3 days before that date. Also, schedule the dates for reviews (check-ups). Within that time frame.

I propose that you use the review dates to solicit feedback for further guidance (if you can). This way, everyone’s submissions can be intermittently evaluated and refined. Use the feedback to measure the group’s progress against the assignment rubric and you’ll be well on your way to that A.

Read: Get a grade A when you do this surprising hack!

#6 Set A Draft Date And Then Take Control

This tip is for my twin – the one with the trust issues. I’ve done this where I saw the crash and burn coming rapidly. Sometimes you have to take over. If you are confident that you can get the project where it needs to be and you group members are not doing what they have agreed to do, then, give them a date to send drafts and complete the assignment by yourself.

At least, you’ll have a foundation to build on. At most, you’ll have control of the final submission.

Some words of caution though. That final grade will depend on you, so be ready to take the flack if there is a fail or a lower mark than is expected. Also, only do this once. DO NOT do this for a group that you may be assigned to be a part of for multiple projects. This could cause members to develop a habit of dependency and they could become lackadaisical. Everyone must be held accountable for their contributions. They should be reminded about the impact of negative peer reviews, or provisions for direct communication with the lecturer (if there is allowance to bring up issues with them). These are measures you can take if the situation is too much for you. But, that’s why you should follow the steps above FIRST – this is one of the “last resort” strategies I offer. The next step gives the other.

#7 Do it Yourself

You’d hate this one. But, sometimes, you have to do what you have to do – for YOU. I have had to do this a few times. You do this when all else fails. You do not ask for and/or wait on drafts to complete. Just do it. It will hurt, it will make you exhausted. You will be angry because that means others who do not deserve a grade, will get it.

But, if you want that pass, or higher grade, there are times you just have to suck it up and take complete control. Again, only do this if everything is falling apart. This is the last resort, last resort. Do your peer review and lodge that complaint if you wish, but meet that submission deadline at all costs. Do your best and be proud of your efforts.

Final thoughts: Group work is a simulation of what is to be expected in the workplace. Whether you recognise it, or not, group work is a representation of many scenarios in our lives. The methods you use to handle group work challenges can be transferred to real-life situations. The 7 tactics I presented can be used all together, or you can choose one or two of them. Some people are fortunate to be in groups that have high productivity and that’s wonderful (and rare). More than often, though, this is not the case. So, if you are on the verge of cussing out your group members, review my recommendations. If any of them seem doable for you, take your shot.

Quick note: If you are an introvert, speak up! Don’t be bullied into getting anything less than what you deserve, ok? Ok.

If you found the information in this post helpful, please feel free to share it 🙂

How to get the perfect thesis research topic in one hour or less

A thesis statement is “a short statement, usually one sentence, that summarizes the main point or claim of an essay, research paper, etc., and is developed, supported, and explained in the text by means of examples and evidence.” (Source: Dictionary.com)

Based on that definition alone, it’s reasonable to assume that, coming up with a thesis statement might sound easy, but it can be very challenging.

I want to stick a pin here and say that, what I am about to explain is akin to the cover page title of your research paper. It is not to be confused with the objective of the paper or the hypothesis that’s to be proven or disproved in your study.

The problem comes when you try to zero in on a statement you can develop with minimal issues. You have to get as specific as possible because you really don’t want to give yourself too much work.

What I am about to share with you, has worked for me and I’ve used it with my clients too. Almost every time, a statement was crafted within an hour, sometimes less.

BUT, I am going to start with the secret strategy first. It sets a good foundation for you to “NOT stress out” while you’re actually doing the research.

LOOK BACK FIRST

What do I mean by this?
Well, what you have to realise, at all times, is that your final research paper should showcase a bit of everything you learned during your entire programme. Each subject was considered integral to your holistic understanding of the discipline.

So, with that in mind, you need to look back at the courses and ask yourself:

  1. What course stood out to me the most?
  2. Which subject was I most comfortable with?
  3. When did I get the highest grade/s?
  4. What subject area did I understand fully and easily?

This helps you to centre your thesis topic around an element of your learning that allows you to easily support the statement.

Then, rank the other courses from easy to difficult. This will help you to shape the research in a way that incorporates each subject in different degrees. It will show the lecturer/supervisor that you absorbed everything that was taught and it can also help you segment your research to populate the paper! But you must also include definitions and theories associated with these topics. You don’t need to overdo it, but to mention it will augur well for you (Ding ding! Extra points).

If you’re just beginning your programme, and happen to be reading this, you’ve got a crazy head start!

All you have to do is… Look Forward

As you move along your programme, take mental checks of the four points I mentioned before and follow the ranking system.

You have to get as specific as possible because you really don’t want to give yourself too much work.

Now, let’s get into crafting the thesis statement. I’ll it in explain in 8 steps.

Step 1 – Select a broad topic that you are passionate about

What do you want to speak about; generally?

Financial Technology (FinTech)? A disease like diabetes? Divorce or marital separation? Human Resource? Politics? Entrepreneurship?
Whatever it is, let it be something you are interested in so you won’t feel overwhelmed or regretful while doing your research.

I’ll be using an example of a recent thesis statement I helped someone develop. I would like you to keep in mind, this was a research paper that was based ONLY on credible secondary data; mostly journals, articles and books.

We began with Logistics and Supply Chain Management with a focus on “Logistics”.

Step 2 – Choose a segment of the broad topic that links to the subject that you are most comfortable with

This feels like a weird step two, right? I know. But you see, it also makes for an interesting angle for the thesis statement. You are strong in the topic, you have the material to return to, it is associated with something you actually like. What better way to start!

So, using our example, Step 2 – customer service was identified as a comfortable topic for expansion.

So now we have Logistics + Customer Service.

Ok, good so far.

Step 3 – Look for research papers with keywords

And by “keywords” I mean the words you’ve used from Steps 1 and 2 WITH the word “thesis”. Logistics + Customer Service + Thesis.

You will get a general idea of what kind of research was already done in these areas. You will get variations, but you will begin to see common themes.

This person saw a few thesis topics that included the words “Logistics Service Quality”. This stood out and was noted as three words to include in their thesis statement.

Here’s another tactic that can take a bit more time. You can go straight to the limitations of the study or the conclusion to figure out what gaps you can use to carry your study also. The disadvantage is that you may not find as much literature, but the benefit is that you could pioneer a study that explores an under-examined topic.

Step 4 – Add a niche factor?

This person wanted to add an element that would improve logistics service quality – Information Technology systems. They repeated the search, now using “logistics service quality” + “Information Technology systems“.

With this, they came upon some studies that began to detail IT systems used in Logistics. These included systems such as Electronic Data Interchange, Barcode / RFID, Vehicle Tracking Systems, Enterprise resource planning, etc.
They chose Enterprise Resource Planning because it could also be used to measure productivity with real-time data while optimising operations.

Note that, at each stage of the search, the broad words are swapped out for more specific words.

So now we had Logistics Service Quality and Enterprise Resource Planning. Some headway was being made.

Step 5 – Introduce your angle

Remember the words “service quality”, well, this is one of the features of an organisation’s “competitive advantage”. This was the angle this person chose.

The first line was then created, “Logistics Service Quality Management for Competitive Advantage.

Still broad, right?

So this is how we drilled down…

Step 6 – Choose your demographics

For the secondary data research, the soft drink industry was selected (because the person liked Coca Cola, ha!). The geographical location of the US was selected simply because it’s where Coca Cola is manufactured.

What do we have now? Logistics Service Quality Management for Competitive Advantage in the carbonated beverage industry in the US.

Step 7 – Add the guiding words

I call them guiding words because they tell the reader what direction your research is going to take. These include (but are not limited to) words such as

  • Analysis
  • Assessment
  • Examination
  • Investigation
  • Review
  • Study

You can refine them more like this:

  • An In-depth Analysis
  • A Quantitative Investigation
  • A Critical Review

Step 8 – Pull it together and arrange accordingly

There is nothing wrong with you playing around with the order of the words. You just have to be clear about the direction of the research. I would even advise that you ask for feedback about your statement

The final thesis statement was this:

Logistics Service Quality Management for Competitive Advantage – an investigation of Enterprise Resource Planning Systems in the Carbonated Beverage industry in the US.

This was good enough to get a thumbs up from the supervisor. Yay! But, it actually could have been even more detailed because some research papers require more detail.

For example, if primary research methods were allowed, the industry could have been narrowed to one company – Coca Cola.

The statement could then have been this:
Gaining Competitive Advantage with Enterprise Resource Planning Systems – An Examination of Logistics Service Quality Management in Coca Cola“.

Now, the length and details of statements vary. I once had a classmate who named her thesis “The Americanisation of Trinidad and Tobago”. It was one of the simplest thesis statements I ever came across and yet the intent was so clear. My thesis statement was boldfaced and clear: “The (Traditional) Media Do Nothing to Encourage an Interest and Involvement in Local Culture“. My results did not validate my stance, however. The findings exposed the shortcomings of media and local cultural groups that led to a decrease in interest and involvement. Someday I may publish it for you all to see. I did A LOT of work for that reality check!

Here are examples of statements from some of the people I’ve assisted:

  • Mediation as an Intervention Strategy to Resolve Conflict Between Persons Who Are Blind and Family Caregivers
  • From Millions to Billions – An Imperative Analysis of the Development of a Feasible Growth Strategy for an Emergent Credit Union
  • Transitioning From Traditional To Fintech: Modernising Customer Service In An Indigenous Bank – The Introduction Of Personal Teller Machines
  • The use of multi-channel distribution as an alternative to extensive marketing for organisational profitability: A critical review of The West Indian Tobacco Company Limited (WITCO)

Final Thoughts: Look at you! Getting your thesis statement on! Seriously though, although moving from 1 to 8 may look seamless, the process still takes some time. But with these guided steps, you’ll get that perfect title in less time and with a clear and researchable topic. Then, the next step would be to get that paper to sound as professional and polished as the statement itself! Yup, that’s another blog…
You’ve got this!

If you liked the information I shared, I’d love for you to pay it forward and pass it on to someone else 🙂