We’ve all seen the memes that are reflective of group work, and I’m sure majority of you have experienced a “not-so-positive” group in the past. Either you are stuck doing all the work or perhaps three of you do the work while one person piggybacks? For this post I’m going to look at group work solely relating to design studios, not the group presentations you do for history or reports for construction, and I’ll be mainly using one group I was involved in as it is a good [or maybe bad] example.

First of all, why do they get us to do group work in design studios anyway? I guess it depends, one project we had to build a 1:5 scale model, and it’d be a mammoth (and expensive) task for a lone student to do. Another project had the idea that from site analysis through to concept, development and refinement it’d be treated as if we were our own little architecture firm, to get us use to the idea of working in a collaborative environment. Other times we just do an extensive site analysis as a large group [20 or so of us] with one or two people focusing on each aspect, then afterwards it’s individual work. I guess in the end it comes down to what the tutor wants to achieve with it, whether they need a large amount of work done in minimal time or if they want to evoke collaboration.

I think the hardest part with group work in a design studio are the egos that float around, which can cause friction and issues. We all like to believe our idea is the best and we should just focus on that, completely dismissing what the other group members had. It isn’t a good feeling having your ideas dismissed, but trying to combine ideas at the same time can be the wrong path to take. For one of our group projects we each came up with a schematic scheme, then we met up tried to extract ideas from each one, but it didn’t really work. What ended up happening was we each presented our ideas to another student group and basically they voted on which one to proceed with, then as a group we needed to develop this idea for interim review.

Delegating tasks is something that is tricky to manage with group work, it’s a balancing act where you want to use individual’s strengths but at the same time some students may want to try something different to develop that skill. Expectations of your group members is such a vital part, if you don’t address it early it will come back and bite you on the butt. Case in point, we had four people work on the physical model for interim review. Three of the four had a certain level of expectation in regards to quality, with the fourth member assuring they are capable of the task. At the end of the day when they left and the three other members inspected their work they discovered it just wasn’t up to the expected quality and they ended up having to redo their work. This is where group work gets tricky, for one, they may not have clearly communicated their expectation but thought it was just implied [really, who wants to make shit models?] but then how do you approach this student and tell them their work is not up to standard? One member did “confront” this person which did not go so well and ended up being a continuous issue throughout the entire project.

It isn’t just quality that is expected, but also the idea that this is group work, lets work as a group. There was another group member who would often leave studio early [like 1-2 hours earlier] to go home and assure us they are working on the project at home. The rest of us however would be in the studio until 11pm-12am working together, not only bonding as a group but being able to easily communicate with each other. In the end I had to confront this member and basically plead for them to stay back so we could work as a group, which they did when they realised how much we had to do. I think it comes down to what is the purpose of this project, if we are meant to work as a group, and as if we were an actual architecture firm, having a couple members not present is an issue.

After we were slammed at interim review, we sat down as a group and basically aired out all issues. Where previously we were concerned of hurting each other’s feelings, we let it all out. We were still mature, there were no name calling or bullying but it was more so letting people know of their weaknesses and what the expectations were moving forward. At the end of this, it seemed like everything was good, but a couple of us still went to the pub to vent further. The main thing but was we just treated as if we were work colleagues, and not friends. If your work colleague isn’t pulling their weight, you tell them, right? You don’t go “Oh I won’t say anything, don’t want to hurt their feelings.” while they are getting paid just as much as you for doing nothing.

The next stage was somewhat easier, where we need to make design changes so after brainstorming as a group we ended up breaking the building up and giving each person a building to further refine. After that, it was delegating tasks again with clear expectations. While one student still could not meet expectations, and we still had some issues, our final review wasn’t too bad.

It’s hard and frustrating, especially when your friends in other groups are saying how great their group is, but it does teach you some things. It does teach you to stand up and voice your concerns, to be critical of others, to manage workloads [especially if others rely on your part to do theirs] and how to manage people. If I am to be honest, if for that design studio we really were a firm, either we’d fire a couple people or we’d go under as we couldn’t work together effectively. While there are vast differences between group work at university and in the work force, much of it is the same, such as being teamed with people you may not work well with. While it’s good to look back on past projects with good group members, and wish your group was like that, I tend to find I grow and learn more when the group dynamics aren’t ideal.

[Main image by Sarah Gilkison]