How do you deal with an uptight group project mate who’s difficult to work with?

A student asked:

How would you deal with this scenario? A group mate is super uptight about a submission and keeps breathing down everybody’s necks. S/he keeps requesting for meet ups when it is obvious to the group that it is unnecessary to keep doing so.

Group mates will tell her they’ll get the work done in a while cos they have other matters, but s/he’ll vent his/her frustration at us (but they still get it done). After which, it is likely that s/he gave a bad peer review to the group mates just because they’re not as uptight as her about the project.

If I were in your shoes, I would find the time to talk to that person and explain that we have different work values, and try to come to a compromise between our differences.

It doesn’t help to say that you find the meetings unnecessary, as it would come across to that group mate that you’re not interested in contributing to the project.

It’s never reassuring to say you’ll work on it without giving anything concrete. So the person will have difficulties forging that trust with you. What the person needs is assurance that you’ll work on it and not free-ride on his/her hard work. The easiest way to give the person some assurance would be to discuss and identify specific deliverables that will be completed by specific people by a specific deadline. Or if that is not possible, assure the group mate that you will work on the matter together on a particular date that everyone can agree with.

Trust is very essential for any team to work effectively. This is why in my module, I strongly emphasise on the need to break the ice at the start to get to know each other well, maybe over ice cream or coffee or something. Social gatherings may seem like a useless waste of time, but you have no idea how essential it is to the success of the project group. It’s a way in which you get to know the other, have shared experiences, and so be able to trust your group mates well. You have less unknown variables to worry about once you know them better, and it’ll make it easier for you to trust them and for them to trust you all especially when you encounter differences in work values.

In my module, I don’t rely solely on peer evaluation to decide who to penalise. And usually, for groups that have differences in work values, the unhappy group member will not hesitate to reach out to me or the TA. And we’ll conduct investigations on our part to find out what’s going on with the group.

I can’t say the same for other modules though. So check with your prof about how they do use the peer evaluations to decide.

How much would peer review affect one’s own final grade?

A student asked me:

How much would peer review affect one’s own final grade?

I can’t say this for all modules because different lecturers have different policies. Some might drop a grade or two, some might choose to give a zero for the whole project.

In the case of GET1050, the worst case scenario is that you’ll get zero marks for the group project component, which is 35% of the total grade. That can drop a student from a B to a D, or a C to an F.

Many students think that they can hide and get away with not doing work, but they don’t realise just how transparent they are. My TAs and I are constantly monitoring our students so we already know who’s slacking before peer evaluation results come out. Also, it’s very obvious who didn’t contribute in the group because the social dynamics will be different compared to people/groups who contribute their utmost.

So what I’m saying is, we don’t just rely on peer evaluation reports to penalise slackers, because some people are very petty in how they evaluate their peers. So to ensure that we are fair, we make the effort to gather and corroborate evidence from a variety of sources.

I’ll just add one more point. You’ve probably heard of the phrase “6 degrees of separation.” Because of my social/professional network, I am 2 degrees away from Lee Hsien Loong, Obama, Clinton, and Putin. It scares me to think just how far away (or rather, how near) I am from these people.

If you know me personally, that puts you at 3 degrees away from them. Why am I saying this? The world is small. Singapore is even smaller. If I can notice slackers in a class of 800 students, what more the professors in other modules? What you do with your assignments and your projects don’t escape our attention. It goes beyond just grades. We know people who hire people, and those people do come to us asking us what we think of you. As a compulsory module, HR people do come to me to ask about my former students when they apply for internships/jobs. I have been fighting strongly to give my highest recommendations to students who have been great team players in their groups; and I have been very honest in telling these HR people about students who demonstrated horrible personal/work attitudes in the group project and in this course overall.

So the repercussions of how good/bad you are in your group go way beyond your grades. So do remember this well. Be good to your group mates and work hard. We are training you to learn how to work in teams and manage people of different personalities and working styles. It’s something you’ll have to do in the working world, so use this opportunity of group work to develop these important people skills. It’ll go a very long way in helping you after you graduate.