How to find the joy in group work

Initial Disclaimer: As a general rule, I despise group work. With every fibre of my being I cry out for solitude and to be left alone to complete my work in the way best befitting to me. This is a brief exception that proves the rule, which otherwise holds strong.

You might be like me, someone who finds the prospect of working in any group, whether it be two or five people, simply horrifying. If so, welcome to the club! You are not alone. Much as I’d love to cultivate a shared ranting session that is full of terrible stories of group projects gone awry, I must confess that there have been exceptions to this hatred of group work. In fact, there is one case I’m thinking of where I actually thoroughly enjoy spending time with all of these ladies and still work with all of them.

Weird. I know. But this one experience has given me hope that we can all find the joy in group work even if we’re all closet introverts that would rather Netflix and Binge for unspeakably long hours than talk to anyone or work on anything. Here are some tips for your perusal that might help you rediscover the joy of working in a group.

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

If it’s possible, find a group that you can trust

This isn’t always the case if you’re shuffled into a predetermined group at work or school but if you’re making your own group, then choose people you can trust. Don’t just find your BFF or that friend at work that you spend hours discussing the intricacies of office gossip with. Work with people you know will put in the time and will want to actually get their tasks done.

It’s a lot easier said than done.

But here’s the thing — if you have the basis of a group where everyone can hold their own and you aren’t always worried about whether someone is doing their work, so much of the stress of groups melts away. Take a group of women who I currently work with at Sub-Stances. We all trust that each of us will contribute equally to our platform, even though we all live in different parts of the world. Just imagine your team was based out of Arizona, New York, Belgium and the Netherlands… now imagine that team didn’t have a basis of trust. It wouldn’t work. But because we all have a little faith in each other’s work ethic and product, we make it work.

Make your time together both fun and productive

Perhaps my least favorite part of working in a group is trying to toe the line between working together and procrastinating together. Obviously you want to do both of those things, but it can be hard when some projects take twice as long because your friends can’t stop talking about their weekends.

My solution? Schedule in different times for being productive and for having fun. Even though at Sub-Stances we don’t have a lot of time or funds to travel internationally to see each other, we make time for group Skypes where we mostly focus on work. Why? It’s hard enough to balance three separate time zones once a quarter. When you’re that pressed for time, you have to do what’s important. Instead, our shared Whatsapp message is for those fun times, where we share memes or chat lightly about our personal lives.

Have your work be something you’re passionate about

I already know the your first question— how can you make school or work seem like something you’re passionate about when you aren’t? Answer? It’s all about finding the little things you enjoy. Let’s say you’re working on a large group project in your university class. Instead of immediately lamenting the fact you have to work with people for the next few weeks, take charge and offer to do something you actually enjoy. Whenever I’m placed in that kind of situation, I’ll suggest pulling my weight in terms of research and writing because I know those kind of tasks are my strengths and I’m passionate about them.

Luckily for Sub-Stances, our whole project is passion based! Although all four of us have full time jobs and work, we always make time to publish some kind of content — no matter how busy we get. But in the grand scheme of things, we’re quite lucky to have the time to do what we love.

Be honest about when someone isn’t pulling their weight

The ultimate group crisis — someone isn’t pulling their weight. It happens no matter where you’re based. And what sucks is it will almost inevitably happen at some point. Where many groups go wrong is that they let it devolve into passive aggressive behaviour and snippy texts. I’ll admit I’m guilty of this on more than one occasion. One of the reasons I feel like Sub-Stances is doing so well is that we’re all honest with each other. We admit when we feel like we aren’t doing enough and we talk openly about when we feel we need to rebalance the work scales.

It isn’t always so easy to be honest with someone you don’t know well. But in the end, that honesty will get you everywhere. Passive aggressive texts can be misunderstood and shoddy communication tactics can go horribly off track.

Be supportive

The previous tip also leads into the last one. You never know why someone isn’t ‘pulling their weight.’ It could be because they’re lazy and aren’t contributing based out of their own spite. But… generally that’s not the case. Usually there is some other confounding factor that you don’t know about. Maybe they’re searching for a job or going through something personal that’s causing their quality of work to decline. Unless this teammate is someone you correspond with on an hourly basis, you don’t know what’s going on in their lives. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. You don’t have to get up close and personal but just by asking if everything is okay, you can make a world of difference.

Being supportive of your group members, even if it’s just a small project, continues to be the best thing I’ve taken away from my positive group experience with Sub-Stances. We’re all excited for one another when we get a great opportunity or are going through a major life change. And that excitement bleeds into our actual work, making us want to continue to interact with one another. Because at some point, it isn’t work — it’s just being productive and creating something extraordinary with colleagues.