Red

Working in groups

10 posts in this topic

Hi,

I'm Red and I hate to work in groups. In fact, to really express how I feel i've invented some new curse words. In finnish. Here's my story:

I believe we've all been there. For those of you who haven't, well... lucky you! I thought I was going to escape it this time. Started an introductory course in law a couple of months ago. A very important course for me. It's going to be valuable when advancing my career and it gives extra credit when applying for the full law school program. I also work at a legal administration so I already have a solid foundation to build on.

My standards have been set extremely high already from the start. It may be an introductory course, but that's no reason not to thoroughly solve a problem and produce a professional result. I'm proud to say that my work so far has been excellent.

Imagine my disappointment when learning that the last two seminars are going to be group assignments. In fact, we're just about to finnish one now and the last one is due late november.

As usual this is when standards get flushed down the toilet. You have people not showing up or ones just used to producing mediocre results. On top of that you have unecessary arguments and everyone wanting to pull in different directions. If you're lucky you get to do everything yourself, but that's not the case here.

For example, tonight has been all about damage control. A few of the people in the group had suddenly agreed on a couple of answers that were simply poorly thought out. They did not even fully cover the question. I pointed out the errors and quickly wrote a better sollution. The rest of the evening has been spent arguing that it's not "too abstract" to take into account how a particular law is meant to be applied. In fact, it's a necessity.

Anyhow, i'm not here to spend all night complaining about the woes of group assignments. I could, but it's not very productive. Instead i'd like to ask you how you deal with these problems. Have you found good ways to tackle them?

In this case I could just shrug and ignore the upcoming assignment. It would just give an extra point on the final examination, on which i'm sure i'll do well either way. However, this is something i'll be facing on future courses as well. So, somehow I need to find a better way to deal with it.

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Welcome to progressive education. You will often have to work in some kind of cooperation with someone, which can often turn out to take more effort than solving the original problem, but this kind of setup is deliberate.

"I can get along with people—when they're alone. I can do nothing with them in groups. No board has ever hired me—and I don't think one ever will."

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I had a similar group assignment in a Business Management class at the Wharton School. We were simulating the operation of a company, forecasting sales, ordering materials, scheduling production, etc. I came to the first meeting having prepared everything that was required all by myself. The other three guys in my group didn't even have a clue as to where to begin, so I patiently explained how I had made my forecasts and plans.

One guy turned to the other two and said, "It looks like our company has a lady boss."

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I had a very similar experience in school - Biomedical Engineering, but I don't think the field or even the country really matters. In four years of school the group projects were by far the most frustrating and angering. I think the fundamental reason is that forming an actually functional team isn't a trivial problem. To have it work, I think everyone has to 1) know what they're supposed to be doing, 2) be able to do it, and 3) somebody has to be the leader to keep things smoothly moving along towards a goal. I explicitly asked for the reasons behind these arbitrary groups and was told it was because "that's how business works in the real world." And also, it's considered mandatory as part of the accreditation of the school. Feh. A successful business isn't going to toss together people arbitrarily, and furthermore, in reality, the majority of productive work is always done by individuals working alone most of the time. The second project went the most smoothly because it was mostly programming, and I did it all ...

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I had a very similar experience in school - Biomedical Engineering, but I don't think the field or even the country really matters. In four years of school the group projects were by far the most frustrating and angering. I think the fundamental reason is that forming an actually functional team isn't a trivial problem. To have it work, I think everyone has to 1) know what they're supposed to be doing, 2) be able to do it, and 3) somebody has to be the leader to keep things smoothly moving along towards a goal. I explicitly asked for the reasons behind these arbitrary groups and was told it was because "that's how business works in the real world." And also, it's considered mandatory as part of the accreditation of the school. Feh. A successful business isn't going to toss together people arbitrarily, and furthermore, in reality, the majority of productive work is always done by individuals working alone most of the time. The second project went the most smoothly because it was mostly programming, and I did it all ...

Did the clown who told you "how business works" have any experience in it or does he go by his experience in tenured academia and their faculty meetings? Things don't always go as smoothly as one would like or expect in projects in business, but they do go out of their way to try to hire the right people for the right positions and let them spend most of their time working on their own tasks, even when, in some companies, bureaucratic managers are inept. The best people typically rise to the most creative and difficult tasks and leadership and the meetings are check on status and keep everything that is needed going in the right direction on time. This feely forced group-think progressive education with its "accreditation requirements" on the other hand goes out of its way to set up the worst possible committee-mindset scenario.

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Welcome to progressive education. You will often have to work in some kind of cooperation with someone, which can often turn out to take more effort than solving the original problem, but this kind of setup is deliberate.

"I can get along with people—when they're alone. I can do nothing with them in groups. No board has ever hired me—and I don't think one ever will."

A bit unfamiliar with the ideas behind progressive education I checked it up on wikipedia. Found this gem on "cooperative learning":

"Cooperative learning is an approach to organizing classroom activities into academic and social learning experiences. It differs from group work, and it has been described as "structuring positive interdependence."

Apparently "group work and development of social skills" are also an important point of progressive eduction.

I find it rather funny. When it comes to education i've never worked well in groups. I've even had teachers warn me about the problems i'll be facing in this real world they're talking about. What makes it funny is that while i'm having trouble working with this group, in the real world - at my job - I recently re-negotiated my salary with my boss. One of the things she mentioned was my enthusiasm and that I take a big part in maintaining a positive and productive atmospehere. Apparently she thinks I perform well while lifting others up. Who would have thought, considering my anti-social tendencies. :D

Isn't it strange that within the education system I find it difficult to get along with people, yet the opposite is true for every job i've had? Now, if schools only could stop trying to teach me "group work and social skills" and instead focus on excellence in the chosen subject... but I know that's not going to happen anytime soon, so i'll have to learn to deal with it.

I had a similar group assignment in a Business Management class at the Wharton School. We were simulating the operation of a company, forecasting sales, ordering materials, scheduling production, etc. I came to the first meeting having prepared everything that was required all by myself. The other three guys in my group didn't even have a clue as to where to begin, so I patiently explained how I had made my forecasts and plans.

One guy turned to the other two and said, "It looks like our company has a lady boss."

This is the only approach i've found that works. When I studied digital graphics the only projects that turned out well were the ones where I stepped up and took charge. It took alot of extra effort, but if I didn't no one else would. That's despite the fact that there was some real talent there.

Granted, that was quite a good lesson for me. I never liked being in that position, but I learned that when things are important enough there's no other position i'd like to be in.

Heh, maybe that's the real world application here - a crash course in leadership. :D

On my next seminar i'll make sure to get so far ahead I got everything covered before the others have even started. Having so many other things to do it will be tough, but I think I can manage. I'm hoping it will give extra credit so it will be worth it(well, just knowing these things really well is also worth alot).

I had a very similar experience in school - Biomedical Engineering, but I don't think the field or even the country really matters. In four years of school the group projects were by far the most frustrating and angering. I think the fundamental reason is that forming an actually functional team isn't a trivial problem. To have it work, I think everyone has to 1) know what they're supposed to be doing, 2) be able to do it, and 3) somebody has to be the leader to keep things smoothly moving along towards a goal. I explicitly asked for the reasons behind these arbitrary groups and was told it was because "that's how business works in the real world." And also, it's considered mandatory as part of the accreditation of the school. Feh. A successful business isn't going to toss together people arbitrarily, and furthermore, in reality, the majority of productive work is always done by individuals working alone most of the time. The second project went the most smoothly because it was mostly programming, and I did it all ...

Hey, I was going to write that! I just had a little nap first. :D

I'd like to add one thing to the list though. In a real job you're personally accountable for everything you do. You're there to do your job, and to do it well. If you don't you'll get fired(on some jobs, like my own, it's easy to get sued as well). On these group assignments it's easy to just ride along. You only need to contribute something to not get thrown out of the group, and then count on the more ambitous students to drag you along.

Related to knowing what you're supposed to be doing there's a natural division of labor in healthy businesses. You don't have to many chefs in one soup. You have your responsibilities, and THEN you may help others out if needed, instead of having several people performing the exact same task. Often in group assignments it's the other way around - lots of people doing one mans job.

I've also heard "that's how business works in the real world". After several different jobs I still wonder when I get to see this real world they're talking about...

Speaking of "the real world", i've always had a huge problem with any form of formal education. I love learning new things but the school environment drives me mad. This was true even when studying digital graphics, which was very much like spending my days with my favorite hobby. I felt disconnected somehow, like spending time in some alternative reality. It got to the point where I was daydreaming about going back to my old job, with a mountain of work at my desk. I think one big reason for that is that schools try to emulate what it's like to work on a real job. But it isn't a real job, and they have no idea what it's like.

After my last experience I thought i'd never go back to school. I'm better at teaching myself anyway. But then I got really interested in law. I was working with it every day, a few of my friends are lawyers, and through work i've met some really sharp people. In many ways the law is also a tremendous achievment in rationality(if you look at the legal system as whole, and not some of the individual laws).

This time though i'm determined to maintain a full time job. I think I can make that work better, but it's going to be a real challenge. :)

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This time though i'm determined to maintain a full time job. I think I can make that work better, but it's going to be a real challenge. :)

Go for it!

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This reminds me. . . years ago, the company I worked at, had started what was known as "Quality Circles." I was asked to participate in one. It sounded interesting, so I agreed. As the project wore on, I started to become less enthusiastic about the prospects for a meaningful outcome. I don't recall the particulars as to how the process worked. The end result of the weeks of meetings, brainstorming, etc? Trivial improvements to cafeteria lunch menu. This wasn't even a government job!

Anyway, after reading the previous posts, it has occured to me that perhaps the intended purpose of these group exercises is to subsume the individual to the group. As demonstrated by a few posts, there are individuals who aren't interested in going along with all the silliness. As for myself, I generally don't like to join anything, preferring to find my own path.

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This time though i'm determined to maintain a full time job. I think I can make that work better, but it's going to be a real challenge. :)

Go for it!

You bet! :)

I'm working on whats and hows right now, but I already know this is going to be so much fun. :D

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