December 04, 2014 By Austine Archibong

We were assembled. We argued. We were at each other's throats. Then we settled. We laughed hard. We played, prayed and hoped. Together. We presented. We failed. We were blamed altogether. Then we pointed accusing fingers at each other. Finally, we accepted our fate and moved on.
This is a condensed depiction of what happened in a group research project I was recently involved in. You see in life, at some point we would all have to be engaged in group work of some sort.
In our case, we were asked to work on the refining of castor oil. As chemical engineering students, this was to entail the process description, materials sizing, process design and simulation, full plant layout, economical and environmental considerations and what-have-you. It was to be massive.
You can imagine the tussle, utter confusion and nervousness that would ensue at first. Group projects? Different shades of experiences, especially my class which is a basic composition of individuals with sizeable age difference from various tribes, with different ideologies and religious beliefs. Sure, different temperaments, the hardworking and the lazy ones, as well as the smart ones and otherwise.
This is a microcosm of the demography available in most settings. The crux is now handling this successfully, especially in the critical area of research!
Firstly, in academic environments most times, the members do not get to choose their teams. The instructors divide available students into groups, on whatever basis they decide to employ.
In our case, each member was supposed to take a part at the presentation after detailed research work. Some forgot theirs; some were too dazed to speak; some couldn't answer questions thrown at them by the panel. Despite some not showing up at meetings, they just presented their parts well and added to the morale of the presentation. Some, despite the hard work, slipped and it was really disappointing. Many didn't even follow the plan when it got to their turn. Some, I felt like taking excuse and slapping sense into them. Gosh! Some members even started crying at the presentation when theirs went bad. Old people oh! You can imagine. After trading blames and we dispersed, I didn't eat that night. I just kept asking how a seemingly well-planned work went awry.
Group research projects must just be well -handled to enjoy maximum satisfaction! There were some things we did not do at all or approached wrongly.
The first thing I suggest is for the leader, if available, to establish calm. If none, any outspoken member should call for a meeting and one should be selected first. One, that all members would likely listen to. One with mental stability and emotional intelligence. A leader, not necessarily the most brilliant or the eldest.
Then meeting period chosen. In our case, we had to consider the Muslims' prayer period and set that as our mini-break each time. The schedule of everybody in the team is to be considered but the final time should be in favour of the majority, in most situations. The venues and other basics like rules at meetings, kinds of words acceptable at the meetings et al should be sorted out as well.
Next, the team needs to understand the theme very well. The entire length and breadth. Then all should be encouraged to read around the theme so a basic scope of work is drafted out.
The beauty of group research projects is that there are supposed to be more hands available, more finance, increased knowledge source and the stress distributed. Even as this is true, the ills can be terrifying.
After the scope of work is defined, the strengths of the team members should be evaluated. Some are bold hence relaxed at presentations; some are good at typing and can use the required softwares better; some are better at content writing or deep intellectual work while other are proficient at just editing. This is critical to maximise the gains of team work in research.
The leader should be wise whilst delegating members to various tasks. The seemingly 'lazy' members should be paired with seemingly 'hardworking' ones. Each sub-group should brief the general team at meetings with all members taking note, as in some presentations, a general score is given to all team members, hence all should be knowledgeable about each part, to be able to represent the team well.
The entire group should be accommodating of other member's ignorance and rant, even if it is irrelevant. As a matter of fact, the freedom of speech rule is usually advised. However, a limit is to be established, so reasonable time is not expended in irrelevant discussions. Resentments should be handled with caution by the leader as well, as it would definitely arise due to different interests in the course of the research. A support system should be set up by the leader as well. For example, the indigent members who cannot meet up with financial expectations or the more physically capable assisting the others, and so forth.
After the presentations, no matter the disappointments and embarrassments, the team should stay positive. No accusations no matter how the situation. Lessons should be learnt and the group members urged to move on. The presentations should be rehearsed beforetime. Rules during presentations should be clear and all members should stick to it. Religiously.
Group research project is not death sentence. Many loathe it but if handled like this, the members would spend less time transferring their spittle in the name of quarrelling.


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