Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Group Work

I had a realization last week while I was at work, about why all your K-12 teachers seemed to insist on making you do all those stupid group projects that everyone hated, and it suddenly became clear why teachers always insisted on giving a group grade and refused to break it down to the individual level. If you were an over achiever like me in high school, you will remember the frustration I’m talking about. It was always obvious in group work that some people were working harder, and doing more of the work than others, but regardless of the role you played in the group, you received the same total grade for your combined result. I’m sure you can remember how this scenario spun out.

You are assigned a group of people to work with. They may not be the best and brightest in the class, or they might be the all-stars. That was not for you to choose, it was simply the luck of the draw, or rather, whatever way of creating the groups that the teacher settled on. You all worked together to divvy up the responsibilities and create a group work plan to get the project done. Without fail, there was always at least one person in the group who did a fantastic job, and at least one person in the group who failed to pull their weight. They either simply did not do the work, or did a poor job of it. Depending on the size of the group, there were several people who did the job at an average level. They completed the assignment, but it didn’t really dazzle you in their efficiency or level of excellence. You were not graded on the effort you put in individually, but on what the group produced as a whole, which tended to be an average of the abilities in the group.

Typically the person who did a fantastic job would end up doing more of the work for the slackers to avoid the inherent sabotage to their own grade that this would entail. Their extra work would raise the total product and up the average to a higher grade level. OR, if the group in question could prove that one person was a total slacker, they would do nothing, then go whining to the teacher that it wasn’t their fault and get their grade raised.

Now, many teachers would raise said excellent pupils' grade, not wanting to penalize them for the poor work ethic of another. This is where my sudden realization came in to play. Group grades always used to get on my nerves in high school, and even in college when it became clear that they helped some people to coast by on the hard work of others.

Yet I say that the teacher who raises the grade, while rewarding the individual for her own merit, does nothing to prepare kids for the real world. All those teachers who stuck to their guns and said the group grade is everyone’s grade (no matter how annoying it was at the time) were really just doing us a favor and giving us a preview of how annoying it is to deal with people in "real life" after college.

The realization I came to was this. I had always thought group work was intended to teach you how to play well with others, how to foster cooperation between people, a ploy to encourage bonding between strangers in a classroom, and an exercise in harnessing the strong points of every one's abilities to create a better product than one person can do alone. This would be the ideal group. However, in life there aren't many ideal groups (as in high school and college) in which everyone wants to work hard, and produce the most that they can. Be the best that they can be, so to speak. Most groups will have the standard division I recognized, where most are average, some slack off, and some work harder.

Does group work teach cooperation? No. Does group work teach you how to exploit the efforts of others to your advantage? Yes.

In real life (read: your job), you can’t pick your group. This is how jobs work: Do the job asked of you in the allotted amount of them, get paid. Do not fulfill your job responsibilities, get fired (especially in today's economic climate). You are subject to whoever is working on the same project as you at the same time, regardless of what you think of their professional abilities and capabilities. I can guarantee you that your boss will not be sympathetic if you go complaining that Suzy isn’t a go-getter, so you won’t be caught working with her. AND it would be extremely unprofessional behavior at best.

No, instead you must struggle along with whatever team of people you happen to fall into, and make the best of their performance because the bottom line is that if the job does not get done to your boss's satisfaction, then you will be in as much trouble as everyone else in the group regardless of who did what. Your boss wants her deadlines met, and a finished product-that is that. Your grade will not get raised. You will not be promoted, because you did not do what it took to make success happen. You just have to work hard or harder than everyone else, and hope that someone is noticing how everything is panning out. Hope that it is those who deserve it getting that promotion, not those who just twiddle their thumbs and wait for someone else to finish the project.

Yes it sucks. Yes it's still annoying that the superstars have to pull the weight of all those losers out their sitting around watching youtube at work. But now at least I know where my professors were coming from.


The Kissters said...

cute blog! we are also two sisters who are from the south (southern VA) living in NYC! :)

The Kissters

hiani16 said...

Thanks! I'm glad you like it!! Stay tuned--I post stuff about NYC and fun places to go quite a lot.


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