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Group projects and vacation schemes – useful tips

Group projects and vacation schemes – useful tips

Matthew Dow

19/07/2019

The descriptions of multiple vacation schemes on LawCareers.Net reveal that most attendees are required to participate in a group project. The exercise is designed to test your teamwork, research and presentation skills. Further, your team’s performance will likely significantly affect your own personal assessment during the scheme.

In my view, group projects are an effective assessment tool. For example, it is becoming far less common for a lawyer to pitch alone to a client for new business. Instead, modern presentations involve extensive collaboration with various teams. This collaboration usually involves the discussion of ideas, gathering of data and even the delegation of slide design.

Further, many requests for tender will demand a wide range of information about a firm’s services. The expertise needed to respond effectively to HR, finance or technology questions may not be found in one person alone. Therefore, it is common for a small team to present to the client together.

Nonetheless, while group projects are becoming more representative of typical work in a professional environment, that does not mean they are without their challenges in the vacation scheme setting.

For example, there may be varying levels of legal knowledge across the team. In addition, public speaking is rarely anyone’s favourite pastime. Finally, coordinating different ideas, styles, methods of working and assigning unglamorous tasks in an environment where everyone inevitably wants to shine, can be difficult.

Therefore, following discussions with recent participants, I have put together a short list of tips that should assist a team to work together effectively.

Solve the communication logistics problem

Often group projects go wrong due to basic communication failures. Common examples include late attendance to arranged meetings, individuals unable to find one another in an agreed location and team members not concentrating on the task that was expected of them.

Therefore, at the start of any project it is important to ensure that you all possess the basic details that you need to work together.

A good place to start is to obtain everyone’s phone number and make sure you have their regularly checked email addresses. It is also important to agree on your preferred means of correspondence.

This agreement is perhaps more important in a vacation scheme setting. After all, you may not wish to be on WhatsApp all the time if you’re sitting next to a partner. However, you also do not want to miss out on the team’s key updates if you’re likely to be away from a computer. Further, it is always worth confirming receipt of any correspondence, in case the sender’s link has gone to a spam or junk folder.

Record everything

In group projects, it is important to ensure that everyone is on the same page. The easiest way to do this is to write up an action list after each meeting.

This list will help to assign roles and responsibilities and to clarify any task ambiguity. In addition, an action list will help to inform everyone about the tasks that other members of the team are performing. Therefore, any relevant information that may be useful to them can be easily forwarded.

Recording information, such as meeting minutes, is also useful for seeing how the project has developed over time. Writing down conclusions, rather than merely orally agreeing, prevents details and facts that may become relevant later from becoming lost, forgotten or neglected.

Get to know the strengths within the group

Everyone has seen an Apprentice episode where a cocky candidate spends five minutes explaining why they are a great saleswoman or numbers guy, then fail to deliver when given their desired role. Nonetheless, this approach of playing to people’s strengths is still probably the best approach.

For example, an individual who may not be the most comfortable presenter, could assemble the slides and coordinate the content for team’s PowerPoint. Alternatively, those who perhaps are not seated in the most relevant department for the team’s presentation theme, could be responsible for organising logistics, including booking meeting rooms and updating the team on useful presentations.

If you work to people’s strengths, you may find that the important background tasks – like compiling a list of sources – get done more quickly and more efficiently. Consequently, it is worth working out what the team’s collective strengths and weaknesses are at the beginning of a project to ensure effective task assignment.

Be inclusive

The key point to remember is that this is a group project. Even if you are an expert in the topic area, it is likely that you will be able to gain some benefit from contributions made by other individuals. This is important because you will ultimately be assessed as a group, so you need to work together.

Good teamwork involves encouraging others to shine. Welcome opportunities for input and try to include those who seem initially quiet.

Have a backup

Once, you get working on a group project, it is vital to keep a copy of what you are working on.

One of the biggest pressures a group faces is when their presentation is unavailable on the day. This is usually because a laptop has crashed or a memory stick has become corrupted. Or perhaps those handwritten notes and cue cards that were vital suddenly cannot be found in your bag.

Therefore, share as much as you can with the rest of the team, backup your work and save it regularly. You should be able to access any project on multiple devices at any time to avoid last-minute nightmares.

Mini deadlines

A group project involves several different stages. What these stages are is up to the team. However, it is important to set achievable goals as the project progresses.

Not only will this deadline focus keep you on track for the final delivery, it will also enable you to pick up areas for improvement and outline ideas that need further research. In addition, mini deadlines allow for better expectation management as everyone will inevitably need to communicate more frequently.

Setting a deadline to perform your presentation in advance together helps calm nerves before the big day. It also helps provide useful cues, which allows for a more nuanced transition between speakers.

Constructive criticism

This is perhaps the biggest difficulty as groups are often reluctant to shut down bad ideas that somebody has worked on and offend them. In addition, much feedback can end up being driven by a personal opinion or stylistic preference that may not be shared by the group.

However, welcoming constructive feedback is a useful way to improve the overall presentation.

If you address any potential criticisms you will be more prepared for questions from the audience. In addition, you will be offering more confidence to your team. Your fellow team members will know that their concerns are being addressed and the presentation has improved as a result.

Look and act as a team

A group project or presentation is not just a sum of its individual parts, you are there to represent the team together. Therefore, discuss all the minor aspects of the presentation to positively enhance the perception of your team.

For example, are you going to stand or sit together when pitching? Will your slides be mostly visual or minimal in style? Jackets on or off? Are you all referring to your proposed product by the same name and using similar language? Will you all shake the hand of the audience members before the presentation? Do your cue cards or note folders look different and uncoordinated?

These minor points, despite being trivial when compared to the actual content of the presentation, help show that you have worked well together and that the team is united.

Conclusion

Team projects can be challenging. However, they are also great fun if you can create an organised, dedicated and passionate group. You will be able to produce some of your best work and probably meet some lovely, enthusiastic people. If you put into place the tips outlined above then your next group project will be less an ordeal and more an opportunity to shine.