Study Tips

How to Navigate Group Projects in Medical School Like a Pro

Joy Muli
Published on Jan 23, 2023. Updated on Feb 16, 2023.

How do you feel about being assigned to a group project? Osmosis Medical Education Fellow, Joy Mueni Muli, offers some helpful tips to make your next group project experience more enjoyable, collaborative, and productive on our latest blog.

What goes through your mind when an instructor tells you that you'll be required to participate in a group project? Is it dread at the possibility of being the only one in the group who will do the work? Or are you excited to meet new people and learn new ideas? Whichever it is, here are some tips to make your group work less stressful and more productive. 

Delegate responsibilities

The first thing you should do is determine who is doing what part of the project. And as simple as it seems, dividing responsibilities among group members is often challenging due to a psychological phenomenon known as social loafing. Social loafing is when a person (often unconsciously) exerts less effort to achieve a goal when working in a group than when working alone.

So how do you compensate for social loafing on a group project? Take the time to distribute the work into small manageable tasks and allocate those tasks based on the strengths of each member of the group. Is someone especially good at writing while another is great with PowerPoint, and the other two teammates are great at research? Give people familiar tasks to motivate them and improve the overall quality of the work.

A group of medical students brainstorming at a table on campus

Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate

I cannot overemphasize the importance of negotiating tasks to prevent or resolve conflicts. It helps each person to identify their responsibilities and reduces the back and forth of following up with group members to do their part. 

Take a moment to be aware of the fact that your group members are students just like you and often come from totally different cultures or backgrounds. Empathizing with each of your teammates will help you relate to them and their unique points of view.

Set ground rules

Create a group charter or guide that details what everyone is meant to do based on your negotiations, including the goal of the assignment, the modes of communication, the norms of behavior, and how to make decisions or come to group agreements. It can be a spoken agreement if it's a short-term project or written down more formally if the group project takes place over a long period of time. 

With this method, everyone knows what is expected of them, and predetermined consequences are in place in case anyone is unable to meet their responsibilities. This saves a lot of frustration from unmet expectations during group work and helps the project run more smoothly.

Three hands stacked up with each other to show team collaboration

Collaborate, don't compete

Lastly, group work is not the place to have a battle of the egos. While we all like to shine, the entire group benefits when everyone is recognized for their effort. The reason for this is if one part of the assignment is developed at the expense of the other, the entire assignment is misaligned. As a result, the work won't be as pleasant to read, and you wouldn't receive the grades you'd like. Everyone loses. So work hard to adjust your mindset when diving into a group project.

Last but not least, some individuals may try to step in and dictate how the group operates. Instead, encourage the group to make an agreement. By creating a collective agreement with everyone's feedback and following it, each person can participate in a way that works for them, and the outcome is usually more effective.

Overall, whether it's for a research paper you're working on or the case presentation you need to make to the class, keep in mind that collaboration is essential for successful, productive group work. 

About Joy Mueni Muli

A fifth-year MBChB student at the University of Nairobi, Joy is originally from Nairobi, Kenya, and plans to go into Oncology. In addition to music, she also enjoys creative writing on her blog and running social entrepreneurship projects. 

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