Syndicate assignments can be a great way to study law, but they can also be more difficult than simply working alone. Although the majority of students don’t experience any serious problems, issues do arise, and it is best to be prepared. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to syndicate problems – the solution very much depends on the individual personalities and dynamic of your group. Nevertheless, following a few simple tips will make the experience far smoother, and should ensure that problems are resolved sooner rather than later.
1. Meet early – Book a room in the library, or organise to meet at someone’s house. The purpose of the first meeting is to determine how you are going to approach the problem. The sooner you begin this process, the better. At your first meeting, you should:
- Define roles for each person. For example, you will probably need a leader and someone to take notes at meetings.
- Divide up the workload. Bear in mind that dividing the work simply by assigning one person to each question is rarely a good way to do this. At your first meeting, you should discuss how you could approach the question creatively. One way to do this might be by planning out how your final assignment will look, and then assigning each person a section of that. You might also want to do some preliminary reading on the subject, and divide the workload at a subsequent meeting.
- Set up communication lines. Facebook/Dropbox/Drive are generally the easiest, but there are thousands of options out there. See below for a list.
2. Negotiate your goals – Begin by asking everyone exactly what they are aiming for. Include anticipated time commitments, expected grades and so on. Be as honest (and non-judgmental) as possible. Take notes. Then, as a group, negotiate the outcome that you will be working towards. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page and is prepared to do a similar amount of work. If you encounter problems later, you may wish to remind people of the goals that they set for themselves.
3. Organise regular meetings (preferably every week or two) and:
- Set goals for each meeting, for example, to write a first draft, or read 10 cases.
- Make sure that every person is meeting their goals.
- At the end of each meeting, arrange a time and date for the next meeting, book a room, and set goals for each member of the group.
4. Make sure that everyone contributes at every single meeting. This ensures that people a) have a feeling of ownership and contribution to the end result and b) will feel the need to actually do their assigned work. As a part of this contribution, every single person should also offer some sort of feedback on the work of every other person. This has the added benefit of ensuring that everyone is able to answer questions about the entire assignment during any related oral assessments.
5. Consolidate early – do not start the day before it is due. You will almost certainly run into problems if you do this. Try to organise to meet up at least 2 days before so that you can start the process of consolidation, and then allow each person time to edit the final product.
Some good programs for organising group work are –
- Facebook groups
- Dropbox – a useful tool for storing and sharing group documents
- Google Drive – also good for storing and editing documents as a group
- Wiggio – allows you to share and comment on documents, as well as plan group meetings and create to do lists
- Trello – a great, easy to use tool for organisation. Used by the engineers at Google.
- See the Useful Links page for more
If you experience any problems with your syndicates, the following tools might be useful for resolving conflicts.
- BBC – Future – The best way to win an argument
- ‘Guidelines for Effective Teamwork‘, Chapter 12 of the Guide to Academic Success
- Conflict Resolution – Communication skills training from MindTools.com
- I also highly recommend ‘Getting to Yes‘, in particular Chapters
- Chapter 1 – The Problem
- Chapter 2 – Separate the People From the Problem
A few other articles of interest are: