Group projects often get a bad rap, but they can actually be a beautiful thing. What’s not to love? You get to meet new people, delegate roles, share ideas, and work together towards a common goal. Sure, there may be bumps along the way. Maybe one team member doesn’t adequately pull their weight. Awkward conversations ensue that attempt to seek resolution while maintaining the positive functioning of the team as a whole. I submit that the skills learned in a group project environment are, in fact, character development opportunities that go beyond the classroom.

During the initial group meeting, role delegation generally takes place. At this point, one member may stand out as the obvious leader. Or, perhaps a member begrudgingly steps up to lead. Regardless of how they are appointed, selecting a leader is an important component of group development. The leader helps keep the team on track, assigns tasks, and provides oversight. Alongside the leader, group members may gravitate towards other roles depending on the project: secretary, historian, financial officer, PowerPoint aficionado, speaker of the house, et cetera. As the initial meeting breaks, group members should be knowledgeable about the expectations and final deliverable. Goal clarity has been established, group dynamics have been set in motion.

At about the halfway mark of a group project’s lifespan, members have a fairly good feel for their teammates. Perhaps roles have been switched, tasks exchanged, poster board layout designed, glue sticks acquired. This may be the point where conversations take place about who has expended more effort and who is coasting on the coattails of the others. This is one of those times where students have an opportunity to level up in their adulting. Confrontation is not fun for anyone, but learning how to approach someone in a non-accusatory way in order to get on the same page, compromise, and seek a positive outcome, is a crucial social skill. This may require a member to step into a mediation role ensuring that both sides are heard. Ideally, all group members will agree upon the final goal and their role in the process.

Take a deep breath, the group presentation looms. This often involves a delicate dance of ensuring that even the most introverted members of the team have a chance to share. One member may feel more qualified to speak due to their current enrollment in Intro to Theater, but it is crucial that all members have a role to play in the final presentation. This shows your professor that your group dynamics were successfully aligned and that your group found a way to navigate personality types and come together as a team.

The sun sets, another group project comes to an end. Each time you work in a team, you should experience a bit of personal growth. A new skill to tuck away – whether it’s conflict resolution, engaging with someone you may not have otherwise spoken to, or how to add a GIF to your PowerPoint presentations. At UAB, as in the real world, we must learn to function within a diverse team. Celebrating unique talents, learning from the experiences of peers, compromising when necessary – these are all useful skills provided as a bonus to the course material being taught by the professor. As an undergraduate student, I thought I knew it all. I was blindly confident and secure in my quest for a 4.0. Now, as a graduate student, I recognize that the relationships I cultivate with others come from a foundation of respect and that there is always something to be learned. Listening to peers, releasing pre-conceived stereotypes or expectations, accepting that growth can be challenging but it is so worth it – well, this is the crux of higher education.

Group projects often get a bad rap, but it is not deserved. Start with recognizing each of your team members as individuals with a common goal. Look for the growth opportunities. Listen respectfully and share your own ideas, as silly as they may seem. The final deliverable is a tiny component of a group project. The relationships cultivated and social skills acquired are far more beneficial than the grade earned. Group projects exemplify the platitude that “we are all in this together”, and what a beautiful thing that is.