What to do when you don’t like your group

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All projects need a leader—could it be you?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. May 4, 2016
We’ve all been in a group project where we felt that we’ve drawn the short straw. In every classroom there are the students who are the workhorses, there are those who are naturally gifted, and there are those who are simply slackers. At one point or another, you’ll get the last pick and end up in an indecisive group where progress is agonizingly slow. Most likely, you’ll be waiting for someone else to finish his or her part before you can complete yours. This pushes the workload further and further towards the deadline, causing a lot of stress for those who genuinely care.

I’ve been in those types of groups, and I’ve been both a diligent worker and an idle procrastinator at different times. I’m sure there are people in the world that will vow to never work with me again, or even talk to me. However, there are people who I have a great working relationship with. Why does one environment cause me to retreat into my shell and another allows me to meet or exceed expectations?

Group projects, without a measure of respect within the group, are volatile environments where people’s emotions and the idea of fairness harm the process of the assignment. When a group of students is left to govern and motivate themselves to finish a project—one where the only guidelines are written on a piece of paper—there are bound to be disagreements. These disagreements can sustain themselves throughout the length of the project and go unresolved until the very moment you hand it in. Why?

The problem with bad group projects is that nobody rises up and takes a leadership role. With no guidance, what ends up happening is that the collective begins to resent each other, as work is not being completed, or is being completed in an unsatisfactory way. I know we all think of ourselves as adults who are capable of taking on responsibility and following through with it—but I don’t believe that maturity or seniority has anything to do with a successful project.

At school, we think of the teacher or the instructor as the boss, but that is not the accurate way of thinking about it. The teacher or the instructor is actually the market—the ones receiving the goods you are making. They are the consumers and you are trying to please them. But if that’s the case, then who is the boss?

A leader should always be a member of the team, one who is closely entwined in the happenings of the project. It should never be someone external. It’s the reason companies of all sizes have a president, CEO, and managers at every level. Some groups will function fine as a democracy. But if you are dealt a shitty hand and end up with a group of people who aren’t motivated, a fair voting system isn’t going to work. Someone needs to lay the hammer down, make decisions, delegate work, and make sure there are repercussions if the tasks aren’t completed at a predetermined time. In your next group project, make sure that happens.

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