I don’t remember having that many group projects when I was in school but it’s a common thing these days. One of the aims is really to get students to learn about team work and communication.

So say many directors and managers of the industry – graduates these days just lacked communication skills.

So say many education researchers – getting students to learn together can improve motivation as well, you know.

So say I – whom have fared poorly in communications and teamwork before.

It is this personal weakness that I have, I made it a strong point to infuse ethics and communications in the hard technical modules that I teach. One good way to do this is guiding students through group projects. However, things don’t always go smoothly. For this particular team, they were on the verge of breaking apart. They had a huge disagreement and they believed each other is lying and making personal attacks. They have similar vision yet they felt that they were going in opposite directions. It was an unfortunate a series of miscommunications, mishandled expectations and confabulations that got in the way.

Together with my colleague, we seeked to convince them to stay together. It is after all a part of life to experience disagreement but learning to overcome disagreement to work together in a professional setting was an important lesson too.

An important lesson that I had really late in life – that I myself am not good with it.

***

At the end of the discussion, I got the students to cool down for 20 minutes. After which, I took out slips of paper and asked them to choose whether they would like to remain together or to split up, and the reasons why they chose it.

4 out of the 5 chose to split.

3 out of the 4 wrote that if they have to remain together, they will need ground rules (which I’ve suggested for them to have during the discussion earlier).

Such reasons…. so most of them actually wanted to stay together no?

“Why not… stay together for another week. Have ground rules on what is needed to make communication work. If it doesn’t work out, we can consider splitting the team?” I suggested.

They agreed. And I left them to work out the ground rules with my colleague.

This is what they came up with:

The Ground Rules
1. I will communicate my ideas and share them with the group.
2. I will be open to listen to my group members and let everyone have a chance to voice their opinion.
3. When there are more than one options, we shall adopt a weighted-benefit table method to list the benefits of the option and calculate their final weights before selection.
4. The group address the issue raised before moving to the next.
5. I will practise active listening in the spirit of give-and-take to protect the interest of the group, i.e. I will put the group’s interest before my interest.
6. I will bury the past and move forward with the group to deliver the project’s outcome as best as we can.
7. I will address the person by name to give feedback.

***

I have my fair share of disagreements with colleagues at times, often preferring to swallow them and accept them – not a healthy option as you can imagine.

But for my students, they were not afraid to try and to move forward. Their decision to move forward despite having soured their relationship demonstrated so much integrity and humility, easily putting many adults to shame.