Playing Nicely With Others: Doing Group Work

by Annie Pho

How many of you have had to do group work in graduate school? What’s that? All of you? Okay, I thought so. Like it or not, group work is integral to library science curriculum. When I first started, I wondered why I had to do do so much group work. What’s the purpose of it? Is there a lesson to be learned? There are so many risks when you have to work with a group of people you don’t necessarily know that well. Coming from an undergraduate background in art history, where you sit in a dark room and stare at slides, you don’t even know who is in your class, let alone have to talk to anyone. It’s a solitary endeavor. However, library school is totally different. You’re expected to talk to your classmates, peer review their work and collaborate with them. That can be really off-putting for someone who is a) shy b) used to studying alone c) new to the program, thus not knowing anyone and d) a control freak. This semester, I’ve had to do a couple of large group projects and wondered how collaborating could be made easier.

This post isn’t really intended to tell you what tech tools to use to make group work easier (basically, use Google Docs). You can check out our post on Gradhacker for our favorite tech tools and Micah’s Web Apps post for more info on that. A big part of smooth sailing on group projects is communication! It’s harder to do that in an online setting, which is when the tech tools come in handy. In terms of building a relationship with your team, you need trust, honesty, and agency. Sometimes you have to take the risk of being vulnerable and tell your group that maybe you made a mistake on something. For example, I recently had a project where one of my group mates was very much a control freak, so there were times when I felt frustrated by her expectations of all of us. I had to be honest with everyone and say “hey, I can’t get the work you want done in the time frame you’re asking” and my other group mates thanked me for my honesty. Most people would rather their group mates tell them when they can’t do something, rather than just not do it. You still have to do your part though. Organization is also really helpful. Dividing up the workload and setting deadlines is key to accomplishing projects. Reconnecting with the group also keeps people accountable and keeps the communication line open. Finally, saying “thanks” to your group can go a long way, because everyone contributed something.

No group is perfect though, there’s always the occasional slacker who doesn’t communicate well. Or what if you just don’t get along with that person? I always try and understand where that person is coming from, despite our differences. Sometimes, you just have to swallow your pride and find a way to get the project done, without strangling anyone. It happens and it sucks, but you get over it and move on.

Back to the question of “why so much group work in library school?” I think it prepares us for the profession. From a professional standpoint, you probably end up in lots of meetings and working with a group of people to achieve a common goal. The same goes for ALA committees and round tables. In the library, you spend a lot of time with people (patrons or coworkers), so might as well start working with them while you’re in school. It really helps someone like me who comes from a background where very little group work is involved. It gets me into the mindset of playing nice with others, learning what I respect in my colleagues and what I don’t like dealing with. I learned to relax and trust other people to do their part, plus it’s nice to look back and see the things I’ve accomplished with my group.