Welcome to Liz’s Lemonade Stand, where the lemons of life are twisted into the sweetest lemonade.
Salutations, Prospect Nation! When I was in high school, one of the things I looked forward to most about college was the absence of group work. I was sick of always being the kid that did 80% of the work; putting my grade in jeopardy by divvying up responsibilities did not seem practical in the eyes of maintaining my GPA. Much to my surprise and initial disgust, group work has followed me from the high school classroom to the college lecture hall. So why do teachers continue to design headache inducing group projects? Before I directly answer, let me share some insight I’ve learned over the past few weeks about group work, or more specifically, teamwork.
In order to win a cross country race, you want to score the least amount of points. The first five runners to cross the line from your team are your scorers (in complicated scenarios like ties, runners 6 and 7 are taken into account as well), and their overall place in the race determines the amount of points your team racks up. For example, if your top five finish 4th, 5th, 11th, 15th, and 17th, your team score would be 52. This means that you want to minimize spread by racing as closely grouped as possible. As part of my college’s cross country team, I’ve learned that the differences between high school cross and collegiate running amount to the width of the Grand Canyon. In high school, we were told to stick together during the race in order to run off each other, but that rarely happened in the thick of the start line craziness. Now, we run with a pack.
Apparently, running with a pack isn’t just for wolves- it’s also how you win races. Metaphorically, you can see how this applies to real life in group work settings but also in the bigger picture, outside academics. Running with a pack forces you to be responsible for holding your position and to pull your teammates along with you when the midrace toughness sets in. A good pack member doesn’t push up on the leader; you have to trust that they’re running the right pace. The pack leader has a big job and it’s each pack member’s responsibility to check back and work as part of the team, not as an individual.
And now for the metaphorical twist: running with a pack is not exclusive to endorphin-addicted distance runners. Apply the philosophy of winning a cross country meet to life and suddenly the point of group work becomes clear. Winning an individual title is great, but winning as a team is that much more rewarding. In order to achieve the greater things in life, you’re going to have a team that helps get you there. I’m not saying that your team will be decked out in flashy spikes and singlets or that it will be 20 people strong; maybe your team will consist of just one or two others. Whether you realize it or not, you’re going to have a team that helps you achieve more than what’s possible on your own.
This is why teachers and professors continue to assign group projects. Aside from the obvious “learn to work with others” intent (which the high school me cynically coined “learn to trust no one”), group work allows for the generation of more ideas due to differing backgrounds and experiences bringing in new perspectives. Bouncing ideas off each other in a smaller setting refines the way you communicate with others, articulate your opinions, and flesh out thoughts. Group work also enables more complex topics to be covered in greater depth than if you were flying solo.
The Lemon: Okay Liz, I understand that group work is trying to make me a better member of society, but I just can’t stand it and I would rather run one of your crazy cross country races than do another group project!
The Lemonade: Obviously life isn’t a glistening, sugarcoated candy land and you’re bound to be stuck in a group of slackers at some point. That’s reality. It’s how you deal with the situation that matters.
- Communicate with your group. Silently seething over the lazy kid’s lack of contribution doesn’t do anything to build a better project, nor does complaining behind the slacker’s back to other members.
- If you area a control freak, relinquish some of it. Maybe the problem isn’t that there are slackers in your group but that it’s you hoarding all of the responsibility. People generally dislike being coddled, so trust that they are capable of handling themselves.
- Should a group member do a crumby job on their share, confront them diplomatically about it. It’s not your responsibility to redo their portion of the work.
- Try to make sure everyone’s opinions are heard.
- Remember, don’t press if you’re not the leader. Likewise, if you are the leader, don’t go flying from the start at an unsustainable pace.
- And one final tip: run vertically for best results.