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Making group-work work

“Making group-work work is tough isn’t it?”


Most students have an aversion towards assignments that require joint group effort from the moment it is announced. Why don’t we start by going through some of the reasons why group projects get so much hate?


Group work requires…

1) strong leadership - someone to run the show and make sure that everything gets done and everyone is heard. This could be in the form of shared leadership or by appointing an individual.

2) good communication skills to establish mutual understanding and to sort out any disagreements.

3) time management skills to cope with everyone’s availability, account for the unexpected and still make the deadline.

4) participation, responsibility, accountability, and collaboration (aka the full package) from everyone on the team.


These days students encounter group projects quite early on in their academic life because it is widely recognised as the ideal activity to develop vital skills for future employment. It also means that there is 99.9% chance that their first experience of working in a team will 'suck' (read as 'have a dreadful experience'), which explain the negative feelings surrounding this activity. Furthermore, with their grades at risk some may see this exercise as a threat to their otherwise perfect school record. (Not having full control over what we are judged for just isn’t a good feeling.)


I sympathize with these negative feelings and presumptions, which can cloud one’s mind once group assignments are set. However, I cannot recall a single group project (and believe me, I did quite a few) that would leave me feeling completely disappointed. It always works out - somehow... Even if there are only two or zero participating members (going solo anyone?), even if there is a lot of heated discussions (which might hurt at a personal level), even if the grade is not what you were hoping for (usually there is not a lot of weight to group project grades anyway), it still works itself out. All I have ever taken away from working in a team is loads of experience and a better understanding of myself and how I behave in a team setting.


Well, well, well,… Now, that we have the formalities out of the way let’s jump into our actual brief, shall we?


FIRST CUT - Requirements of the brief

You are required to record and present your group impressions of a London Event visit (researched and negotiated prior to attendance. Design and design related events can be found in abundance in London and surrounding areas.

After careful negotiation, discussion and agreed consensus, you will edit and assemble a 10-minute presentation. Groups should consist of three or more.

The final result could be a /photographic/illustrated/filmic/audio/visual/drawn/designed presentation that records the ‘First Cut’ on your collective ideas.


(My group consisted of Me, Natalie, and Elliott.)


Forming a group was not an issue, as we are quite a mature bunch. However, finding worthwhile London Events during a global pandemic was a bigger problem. I was quite excited at the beginning because I have not visited London yet (or at least not properly). I only passed through twice in my life, during my journey to the airport and then back again.

Unfortunately, after we have spent some time scouring the internet for events, we realized that most of them were cancelled or held online. We really wanted to get going with this project so one of our backup plans was to visit London and document the (presumably) empty streets. Another alternative was to visit a place where a cancelled event was supposed to be held, take photos, and then draw an imaginary event in to the photo ourselves. Our backup plans did not account for the possibility that we might end up self-isolating which sadly ended up happening. Now it was down to just online events and we were desperate, which meant that we spent our next group meeting browsing through Eventbrite. Me and Natalie cherry picked a few interesting events and then we all voted on which one is our favourite. In the end we attended an online webinar titled 'The Art of Communication', presented by Kalini Kent. It was the ideal solution as it was an opportunity to learn something useful while also satisfying the brief.


Notes from the Event

First impressions

-Instant chatting, way more communication than our sessions, all cameras on

-Does everyone know each other?

- Adults are still like children


Connection

Barriers - digital platforms missing out on body language


Communication is 7% spoken word, 38% tone, 67% body language

If one is impaired, then you need to raise your game in different areas.


“You are a blank canvas.

Everytime you are communicating with somebody you are creating a master piece tailored to the viewer.”

Think - What is the purpose? The audience? Our tools?


Confidance

You need to feel safe in a group setting.


WHY - “begin with the end in mind”

WHO - our audience (children, adults, teenagers) the style, the content has to match, like a painting it all has to be different and tailored.

Look at yourself too - are you an authority, a peer, a friend? Firm or warm?


WHAT the content, well structured, Clear and concise, metaphors, quotation, figures if speech, stories


Charisma

HOW - Have them on the edge of the seat, engage them. The speaker has the ability to make you feel special. Transported to a different world. Taking them on a journey. Get into a character. A costume, way of moving your body.


Listening skills - seek first to understand then to be understood. Telling the audience about what you are going to do not who YOU are. Clarify and reflect back.

Eye contact - where you are looking at the webcam

Body language - gestures, energy, smile.

Tone of voice - warm up. Be clear, intonations, variation in power, pitch, pace and put in pauses.

Clench your buttocks to change your posture - expand your diaphragm. Breathe.

Engaging people - Slides? Not the best for keeping attention. Let them visualize it themselves. Use props.


Be authentic - what works for you?

Energy, passion, and enthusiasm


Paint pictures for people.


60sec pitch

You have 7sec to create first impression.

The Hook method - pain points, the solution, (business model) opportunities, then talk about You! (The ask) what are you looking for. My ask of you is....

Pitch breakdown - There is a problem, blow it up and link it to them, provide a solution and opportunities then ask.


After the event we had a follow up meeting to compare our notes and decide on how we are going to answer the brief. Unfortunately, there was a little bit of confusion about the time when we were supposed to meet (me and Natalie were in a different time zone) so it was just the two of us at the beginning, but Elliot joined us later on. We mutually agreed that I would be designing our presentation while Nat and Elliott would focus on writing the content. Instead of solely focusing on our review and first impressions, we decided to make our presentation into a teaching moment – providing the audience (our peers) with a few tips from 'The Art of Communication'. Personally, I am not a big fan of presentations filled with large blocks of text so I suggested to the group, “Can we make it more engaging, like maybe use animation instead of pure text?” At that exact moment I have set myself up for a challenge, as I was the one who was supposed to pull it off. (Yikes!) Thankfully, this was a challenge that I was more than willing to take – I have a soft spot for animation, and I would take up any opportunity to learn that skill. We brainstormed a few ideas, and I got a lot of great tips from my teammates on how I could interpret our little nuggets of information.


(An exclusive inside look at my messy notes...)


Once the presentation was done, we had a follow up meeting so that we could check in on one another and adjust our plan accordingly. Thankfully, the whole team was happy with the presentation. However, we got into quite a heated discussion once we started negotiating what we would be saying. Our opinions differed; we all translated the brief in our own way, so we were not united on what it was exactly asking for. Elliott wanted to include everyone’s first impressions meanwhile Me and Nat thought it should be a collective first impression. After a bit of talking, we decided to compromise and include elements of both.

As a team we definetly experienced our fair share of forming, storming and reforming - and that is good. I would much rather butt heads with people who actually care about what we end up producing than to struggle getting any feedback from my colleagues.


Our presentation


Feedback

Our presentation was well received, and it sparked a good discussion. On topics such as:


- how to make online communication more accessible for everyone?

- how to effectively communicate with people on the autistic spectrum or with disabilities?


There are a lot of solutions out there like using subtitles, enunciating, visuals, props, body language, sign language. But it all goes back to one of the points that were made during the session - "Know your audience!"

The tools we use depend on our audience and on the content, we want to deliver - there is no 'one size fits all' rule that would work for everyone and everything.

I know that it might be disappointing to learn that even though we are so advanced in many other areas we still don’t have a fool-proof formula for effective communication, but I believe that we can manage without such prescriptions. The key thing is to really understand the unique needs of your audience.


Actually, I have a fitting story from my childhood (I hope you don't mind me sharing). It is from the time when my family used to go on a holiday to one of the Army rehabilitations centres in Czech Republic. I believe I was six or seven years old at that time. Amongst other tourist temptations, there was an above-ground outdoor swimming pool with a yellow slide. Now, you have to understand that when I was younger I was instantly drawn to anything that involved water, so I was in the pool in a matter of mere seconds. However, the slide would not work unless someone plugged the hole in the pool (essentially just covering the outlet with their hand). Luckily for me, there was another girl playing in the pool, but she did not speak my language. What do you think we did?

We found our own way of communicating – using hands, gestures, noises, nods, and soon we were happily taking turns going down the slide and then plugging the hole for the other one. As if the language barrier was not even there…



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