Dear Breakfast Brito,

My final group project (which is worth a lot of my grade) is about to start. I’m worried about my project-mates and don’t know how to deal with my group. How do I avoid making enemies while also pulling off a good grade?


Reluctant Participant

Dear Reluctant:

The first thing you have to do is make the best out of your group. You’ve had class with these people for a whole semester, which is 9 weeks more than you need to acquire negative opinions of them. Maybe you sit behind someone and know they are watching those Buzzfeed recipe videos instead of taking notes every single class. Maybe you get put in a group with a total suck up that’s always asking about extra credit. Maybe they’re a Scorpio. Try to put those things aside (except the Scorpio thing, that’s actually objectively upsetting, try and switch groups). Considering this is a college of 1300 students, you should put aside the fact that you also probably know way more about their personal life than you are comfortable with. Things will go much smoother if you are able to separate the classmate from the screenshots of his awkward Tinder conversation with your friend’s friend.

Now that you are starting from a clean slate, you have to deal with the myriad of logistical problems that come with a group project. The first step is the initial communication. Be very careful, because if you send out the first email you will become de facto group leader – I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules! Choose wisely before you take that on. Then comes setting up a meeting. Depending on the nature of your project you may not even have to meet in person (shoutout to Google Docs). As tempting as this is, try and feel out the situation to see if that’s what you really want. There are a lot of benefits to meeting in person. It increases the opportunity for creative collaboration (I guess). More importantly, it’s easier to form alliances to shutdown the worst members of your group when you have the benefit of non-verbal cues. Until Google Docs adds a feature that allows you to tell if everyone thought that suggestion was dumb, I fall squarely in the meet-in-person camp.

There’s almost inevitably someone that can’t make any of your group specified times. If they’re only available Tuesdays after 10 and there’s no way you’re missing TNR, just tell them it’s fine (even though it isn’t) and give them the most work (if you can trust them). They’ll hopefully feel too guilty about missing the meeting to put up a fight.

Ultimately the first meeting should be for general project direction and work delegation. After this you can probably work somewhat independently (aside: unless there’s a hottie in your group, then make sure to schedule lots of meetings and “forget” to invite the rest of your group). It’s during the independent work stage that the real issues arise.

As long as there have been group projects, there have been free-loaders. There’s almost inevitably going to be someone in your group that for one reason or another does not pull their weight. On the bright side, it’s generally pretty easy to spot these people. If they even show up to the meeting, they’re the ones taking 50+ Snapchats with the puppy filter instead of doing any actual work. Plan accordingly and don’t expect too much from them. While these people take a lot of the flak when discussing group projects, a far bigger threat is someone that will do the work, but do it wrong or at a low quality. These people are a bit tougher to predict. However—be warned—they are usually very enthusiastic. If someone messes up their portion of the project enough to merit a total redo, you can either make them do it again or do it again yourself. Making them redo it is obviously easier for you, but is risky given that this person has already proven themselves to be worthless. I recommend you do it yourself. The expression “If you want something done right do it yourself,” may be a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it is true, all the time, always. Just make sure if there’s a presentation component you subtly dominate, so everyone knows you carried the team.

After the project is done and you got your A, find other ways to get your revenge. Make a Craigslist ad saying they have a mini pig they’re looking for a home for, post it under the “free” section. If they’ve mentioned being on season 4 of Game of Thrones make sure they know Jon Snow dies. Don’t share them on your final review study guide. Or do share them but fill it with wrong answers—you already know they won’t know any better.

Don’t Forget Breakfast,