UW Graduate School

February 22, 2018

Managing Expectations for Group Work

As a working student, how do I manage others’ expectations so that I can reduce the number of in-person meetings I’m expected to attend on campus?

My employer graciously kept me on as a part-time staffer when I began graduate school (a two-year Master’s program). This is a professional position at 20 hours/week scheduled between business hours that contributes substantially towards defraying tuition costs. Almost all RA/TA positions are awarded to PhD students in my department, and I’m also taking out loans to pay for living costs.

I spend up to 60 minutes commuting via public transit from work to school (and vice versa) during the day. I’m very strict with how I spend my time and prefer to work remotely (using Slack, Skype, Google Hangouts/Drive, texts, and phone calls) whenever group work calls for coordination or my presence.

However, I cannot keep turning down requests to meet in person, most of which are last-minute reschedules. I have received several negative evaluations from former group members who say that I’m not a team player, largely due to my absence at meetings scheduled during my work hours (without consultation from me). Although I accept partial responsibility for not communicating my own expectations, I’ve offered to send completed work in advance of meetings and have requested minutes to follow up on delegated tasks — these have been met without response, and I am puzzled that members of my cohort would act so unprofessionally. I also offer to meet evenings and weekends, but people have rejected this, citing work-life balance.

My employer and I have discussed having to request time off to attend multiple meetings throughout the day, which has occurred so frequently that I have been asked to set an end date to my job. I expect to find part-time shift work to accommodate my school schedule next year, so I do not see this problem going away anytime soon. I am sure that student-parents have similar demands on their schedule. Do you have any advice for us?

–Anonymous

This answer was written in consultation with Katie Durham, academic programs analyst and Evening MBA student with the Foster School of Business. 

Hi there,

Thanks for writing in. This is a tough spot to be in. It sounds like meeting and scheduling your group work around other commitments – especially when your peers tend to have different schedules from yours – is what’s causing you the most stress. I’ll focus on giving you some strategies to manage the expectations around your time, and then see if I can relay a few other resources on group work and work-life balance that you might find helpful.

When you first start a group project, communicate your schedule and the limitations you described to me – your commute, your work, etc .– to your group members. According to Dr. Carla Patalano, professor and chair of MBA and MHRM at the New England College of Business, working effectively and efficiently in a group starts with creating “written, agreed-upon expectations, often referred to as Group Charters, Contracts or Project Plans.”

Patalano says her students, when working in groups, choose a time once per week to convene. This might help you to balance work and school, especially if you start shift-work in the fall. In this case, consider requesting at least one day per week that is consistently your “off” day, and then plan to use that for meetings, coming to campus, etc. Of course, it may not be a day your group is free – so be prepared for that!

If meeting regularly once per week is not feasible or is unnecessary for your group, be sure, from your first meeting, to share your expectations about future meetings: how far in advance should they be scheduled? How often can your group members expect you to come to campus, and how often will you expect to Skype into meetings? When you meet, who will type minutes, and how will they be shared with the group? How will tasks be delegated? Ask your peers to share their schedule and expectations. If they say they can’t meet on weekends or evenings, respect that.

As Patalano suggests, be sure to have these expectations written down, perhaps in a Google doc that can be accessed by the whole group. Having these expectations clear from the beginning will mean there are no surprises when you say you can’t meet on a certain day, or when you miss a meeting that is rescheduled with little notice.

I also consulted with Katie Durham, academic programs analyst and Evening MBA student with the Foster School, who is also very familiar with the challenge of balancing work commitments, school, and group-work. Katie says that when she works in groups, “My team schedules out several weeks in advance sometimes and if someone can no longer make it, they try to call in or at the least send their work to the team. My classmates all have jobs and long commutes and we make it work. We often meet via Google hangout and only meet in-person when we really need to hash out an idea.” Profesionalus internetinių tinklapių ir elektroninių parduotuvių kūrimas bei seo paslaugos už priimtiną kainą – SEOpaslaugos.com

For additional reading, check out this comprehensive guide to group work, which includes a checklist for each team member to reflect on their performance in the group, and some guidelines for creating a teamwork contract. As well, check out this guide on balancing work and lifestyle from Core Programs.

Managing your own time and other’s expectations of you while working to complete an assignment is tricky, but it’s absolutely a skill that is important for working in the professional world. I hope this gives you some ideas of how to better manage your time as a working professional and as a student.

Sincerely,

The Grad School Guru

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