Does this sound familiar? It’s the night before your group’s big presentation, and you frantically type up a few key points for the outline. Your phone lights up with multiple notifications, filled with messages about last minute reminders, words of encouragement, and even the occasional complaint. You glance at your phone only for a brief moment until you take a deep breath and continue typing again.
According to the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University, “Properly structured, group projects can reinforce skills that are relevant to both group and individual work.” From improving time management to developing stronger communication skills, these projects can ultimately help us strength certain skillsets that are becoming increasingly important in the workplace.
During Fall semester of my freshman year, I participated a semester-long group project that was part of the first year experience at my university. In addition to adjusting to college life, I was thrown into an entirely new experience with almost 30 students that I had only known for a few days.
While some of my peers immediately started separating tasks and assigning roles, I stayed quiet in my seat and observed the entire plan coming together. Suddenly, the attention was on me and I was asked to pick which sub-group I’d like to join. Without much information, I picked randomly and hoped for the best.
Several weeks went by and before we knew it, it was time to submit our initial research paper, along with any strategic recommendations we had. To say that our stress levels were at an all-time high would be an understatement. There were a few setbacks, but we all worked together to ensure that our final product was something we were proud of.
When it comes to managing group projects in college, there's a lot we can learn from The Social Network’s Mark Zuckerberg. Below are a few tips on how you can stay sane while tackling those group assignments.
About the Movie
Disclaimer: While The Social Network is based the true story about the origin of Facebook, events in the film have been dramatized for entertainment purposes. If you’re interested in learning about the real story, you can find it here.
Directed by David Fincher, The Social Network (2010) is a biographical film following Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), the creator of the social networking phenomenon, Facebook.
After getting dumped by then-girlfriend Erica Albright, Harvard student Mark spends a night creating a website called Facesmash by hacking into various academic databases. He forms a collection of female students’ photos, and in response, site visitors can rate the attractiveness of these students. Wow, how objectifying. Overnight, the page ends up crashing Harvard’s entire computer network.
Enter Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, two upperclassmen who become increasingly interested with the popularity of Facesmash and its potential to be something much greater. The Winklevoss twins ask Mark to work with them on the Harvard Connection, a social network aimed at dating on college campuses.
Instead of forming a collaboration with the two, Mark seeks out Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and presents a new idea called thefacebook, a social networking site for Ivy League students.
From securing a partnership with Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) to attending hearings about misuse of intellectual property, Mark encounters a few major challenges that come along with working in a group setting.
Want to watch the film before reading further? Check it out here.
1. Find your fit.
From the beginning, Mark demonstrates his creativity and intelligence, and as a result, he wants to work with similar minded people.
The Winklevoss twins, along with their business partner Divya Narendra, approach Mark with the idea of developing the Harvard Connection together. However, seeing as he hasn’t worked with these upperclassmen before, Mark instead opts to work with someone he knows, teaming up with friend Eduardo to create a social networking site for Ivy League students.
Shortly after, Mark enlists the help of Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster, a free music file sharing service. Mark considers Sean an expert in the field, so he sees Sean as a natural partner. With his experience, Sean can help Facebook reach college campuses around the country and beyond, while Mark handles the software.
When participating in group projects in college, we won’t always have the chance to pick our group members, but we will most likely have the freedom to set our own expectations and roles. Throughout the course of the project, it's important to find the fit that allows us to propel our group forward.
Within my subgroup, I was asked to research and conduct an analysis of my findings. This turned out great: Truth be told, I actually enjoyed reading different academic journals and then writing a report. Who knew environmental threats against toilet paper could be so interesting to research?
Elsewhere, some group members researched our given company’s competitors in order to develop new ideas and recommendations. Some preferred to create the overall design of the presentation. We all have our strengths, and if you can find an area where you can use yours? You've found the sweet spot.
2. Always maintain effective communication.
While Mark creates a site that connects people together, it’s ironic that he is unable to maintain good lines of communication in real life.
After meeting with the Napster co-founder, conflicts begin to emerge as the team begins to implement Sean’s “billion-dollar vision,” which includes relocating to a different area and changing the site’s name from “thefacebook” to simply “Facebook.”
Through all of this decision-making, Mark does not consult Eduardo, who mainly handles the finances and is technically a co-founder of Facebook. The lack of effective communication among the team leads to an instance when Mark relocates the company to Palo Alto, CA and leaves Eduardo to work on business development back in New York. To Mark's dismay, Eduardo ends up freezing all of the bank accounts associated with the company.
Now, back to group projects in college. More often than not, open communication stops conflict in its tracks. Regardless of the class, organization, or job, it’s extremely beneficial to keep your group members updated on your work, along with sharing your ideas and opinions.
There’s a variety of platforms for group communication out there: GroupMe, Slack (a CF favorite!), emails, text messages, and many others. And when in doubt, opt for a face-to-face meeting. The goal here is to maintain complete transparency.
3. Don’t be afraid to confront group members.
There may be a lot of us out there – myself included – that are afraid of stepping on toes. Although we may be sparing people's feelings, withholding our opinions or concerns can eventually put the group at a disadvantage.
In the film, Eduardo storms into the Facebook office, demanding to speak with Mark about the new shares of stock that were issued. To make matters worse, Sean adds his own opinion on how Eduardo had been operating the finances of the company.
While causing a scene in an office setting is not the most professional way to go about things, Eduardo is able to get his message across and learn the truth behind the company's trajectory. Although the dialogue between the three includes sarcastic and rude remarks, the conversation allows them to provide some honest feedback to one another.
At a group meeting a few weeks ago, I found myself mustering up the courage to share some of my concerns. The president of my school’s student-run fashion association asked us to share areas where the organization should improve. Instead of waiting for others to chime in, I immediately responded with current setbacks and my ideas for growth.
Starting the initial conversation and letting others know your thoughts will eventually lead to better ideas, more effective collaboration, and happier group members. Don't be shy -- make your voice heard!
Have you had issues with group projects in college? Did you ever have to confront someone within your group project? What movie are you watching next? Start the conversation – comment below!