Friday, July 16, 2010

My Group Project Rant

Group projects are dreaded by many A-seeking, hard working college students. Invariably there’s at least one member that you simply never hear from, another who does the bare minimum, often there’s one that just doesn’t understand the assignment and turns in work that’s unusable and then there’s the team leader who, because good grades are important to him or her, ends up doing the bulk of the work herself, or with the help of one other like-minded team member. Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about these group assignments is that they really don’t teach people how to work in groups in a work environment. That appears to be the point, but the concept falls short in many ways.

For some, getting a “C” and coasting through college putting in the bare minimum of effort is fine; they’ll still get the same degree with all “C” as they would with all “A”s. In a work environment a team member can try to coast through, but his performance is not tied to a grade letter, it’s tied to a performance evaluation, raises and even continued employment; and continued employment means paying your bills. So while there are “slackers” in a work setting, the rewards and punishments for poor work are completely different. If anything, group assignments in college teach bad behaviors, primarily that if one doesn’t put forth any real effort, someone else likely will and you’ll still get a good grade. I would argue that it even pulls down the “A” students and makes them question whether putting forth the effort so that others can coast through is worth it or fair. It’s de-motivating and demoralizing, and teaches not cohesive group behavior, but that the only person you can count on is yourself.

In a school environment there is no “boss” and the only recourse the other team members have are peer evaluations, if they’re even used. Some people realize early on that if they don’t do the work others will. Different things motivate different people, and a good manager understands and capitalizes on that, in a work environment. He also understands that some people work very well in a team environment, and others don’t; successful managers know their people. So if there’s anything to be learned from group assignments in college, perhaps it’s that team projects don’t always work out the way they should, and sometimes people get left behind, and that’s ok. You reap what you sow.