How to collaborate in university

Why do we collaborate?

We collaborate to ensure that all of the best expertise is being used in a project. Collaboration involves cooperation, sharing a goal, and maintaining a structured strategy to make sure that you achieve them in a timely manner. Collaboration is also a vital part of working in the media, in marketing, and in the communications industry – whether you are working in a pair or in a large team.

At university, there are two main strategies for assessment: individual tasks and group tasks. So collaboration is an important skill to master early in your degree.

How do we collaborate?

A lot of the time, we can collaborate either face-to-face or remotely. Remote collaboration is a difficult skill because you will often not be able to physically see what people are doing, but it does allow for different opportunities and bring more people into a project. Face-to-face collaboration is the style of collaboration that you will be more likely to encounter at university, though there is scope for remote collaboration in distance ed.

When you approach any project, you should begin with a compelling WHY. Why are you working on this project? And, more importantly, why is everyone in your team working on it. It may be that you’re working on this project because you want to learn a particular skill, or it may be that you’re only working on this project because your teacher says that you have to. Either way, knowing the motivations of everyone in your team will help you understand them and make aligning the goals of the project easier.

Take a look at this YouTube video for more general information about collaborating on projects

Step 1: Identify the main goal of the project and delegate tasks

Chunk the task into smaller ones and plan when each task should be done.

  • Make a specific date for the deliverable(s), make sure every member of the team is aware of the date
  • Brainstorm any potential issues that may prevent a task from getting done (someone’s schedule, etc). Think of a way around these issues NOW.

Delegate duties and deliverables to people based on their abilities. If you are meeting your collaborators for the first time, try and have a brief discussion at the beginning of your first meeting so that people can explain what role they see themselves filling and what their talents and strengths are. This will ensure that the tasks and deliverables are appropriately divided to play to your collaborators’ strengths

Make sure that everyone in the team actually says what they’re going to do and when they’re going to do it out loud. This helps to make sure that everyone is aware of what they are expected to bring to the next meeting, and helps to avoid confusion and misunderstanding.

Apps for maintaining contact with your team and organising meetings include (but are certainly not limited to):

Investigate for yourself what the best methods are for maintaining contact with your group. Something as simple as a Google Drive folder or a Dropbox folder might be enough to make sure that everyone is working with the most up-to-date files.

Step 2: Regular meetings

Schedule regular meetings. You should finish your first meeting with a plan to meet again after an appropriate amount of time, but it might also be helpful to plan out specific dates and times right then and there – this comes back to the point about chunking the big tasks into smaller ones and setting deadlines on them. It might be worthwhile meeting around the time that each deliverable is due just to make sure that everyone is still happy with the progress of the project.

Collaboration requires that you be aware of how your collaborators are doing in the project. Build trust in each other and be aware of when collaborators may be struggling to complete their tasks on time. One way to do this is to employ the Check in, Check out method. This is a good way to keep an eye on each other’s status. If you are having difficulty with a deliverable, or you have some issues or concerns that need to be addressed, then this is the time to flag that.

It is also important, when going into a meeting, to have an agenda. Writing an agenda is important because it keeps people on task and establishes a clear expectation of what will come out of the meeting. It is very easy to go off-track in meetings, especially when you have a lot to discuss, so having a clear agenda of what you need to cover before the end of the meeting will remind all of the collaborators about what is important. Even if the meeting is just a check-in, plan to have everyone explain the progress that they’re making. The agenda should also have a reminder to conclude the meeting with the Next Step – the plan of action and deliverables for the next meeting.

During your regular meetings, make sure to reiterate the dates for deliverables and individual goals so that everyone knows what will be expected of them when they meet next

Step 3: Take ownership

Focus on the end goal. Do not get distracted by the small things like inter-personal issues or distractions. These won’t help you complete the task and may hurt you in the long run.

Someone will have to take the lead. Even in a real-world workplace, there may be people on a team who will not work if they can avoid it. You might need to be the one to pick up the slack. If you are responsible to someone outside of the team (a lecturer, employer, etc) keep them involved so that they are aware of any potential issues early in the game.

  • If your team has concrete deliverables, make sure that the person you are responsible to is aware of who is doing what – this is where your original planning session will benefit you
  • If someone will not complete the work, give them one second chance and then bring it to moderation

Step 4: The completed project

The project should be completed at least a few days before the due date. Post the completed task online, or somewhere where each collaborator can make comments.

  • Identify a set time limit for changes to be made
  • Work as a team to decide whether a proposed change is necessary

When you are happy with the product, agree on who will be submitting on the other collaborators’ behalf. Make sure that they submit the morning of the due date so that there is time to address any tech issues.


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