Alright class. I want you to take a couple of minutes and sort yourselves into groups of 4 to 5 people. You will be with these groups for the entire semester.
This is a nightmare. I truly, sincerely, despise this scenario. All throughout my educational experience, I have learned one thing: group projects are the worst. I felt like writing about group projects today. I'd like to share my experiences with you. And please, share yours in the comments below.
When I was in 7th or 8th grade, I was put into a group for a history project with 2 other people. One of them flatout didn't do anything. Not one thing. The other guy and I had to divide this entire project up and do it all in one night. On the whole, we did pretty well for scrambling so much. But I was furious about this. I worked very hard to ensure that the teacher knew this little turd of a kid did nothing on our project and deserved none of the credit.
My second year of college, I took a class called B211. The first paragraph of this blog? That is essentially a direct quote of what happened on the first day of class. So everyone immediately turns to the people next to them to set groups. Some people in class had friends who had already taken this course. They knew what they were getting into and planned their groups in advance.
I'm the kind of person that sits in the back of the class and keeps to himself. I'm fairly antisocial. When this type of situation arises, I don't know what to do. The same thing happens every time. The majority of groups coalesce in 1-2 minutes. Then there are the stragglers. People that just didn't quite make it into a group. Many of them may have tried to join a group, but the max number of members is 5. The teacher insists that one of them leave. The rest of the group gives that person the stink eye. So they shy away. Finally one of the stragglers approaches the professor and says they can't find a group. Professor rolls their eyes and calls out, "anyone that doesn't have a group, raise your hand!" I raise mine and a few others do as well. We all look at each other awkwardly and then join together. This happens EVERY TIME!
It happened for me with this B211 class. Our groups had to be 4 or 5 people. No more, no less. I was put with the stragglers. Two of the people appeared to be complete and total losers. The third seemed to have no interest in the class or the group. That left me and one girl that actually seemed interested in succeeding in the class. I could see the future. I saw an entire semester ahead of me in which I and this one girl did the work of 5 people, while the others failed to cooperate in any way. It was a nightmare.
We returned to our seats. Right after class, I heard a group sitting in front me determine that they would have their first meeting that very evening in the same classroom. They had 4 people. They seemed friendly, intelligent, and desirous to succeed in the course. I decided I wanted to join them. At 5:30, I walked towards the building. As I neared the door to the building, I had a crisis. Could I do this? Could I invite myself into their group? Is that a dick thing to do? What if they say no? I turned and started to leave. I took a few steps and stopped. I can't work with my group! I can't do it! So I turned and headed back to the building. I stopped again. I couldn't do it. I started to walk away. I did this about 4 times in total. Finally I managed to work up the courage. I walked into the building and into the classroom. I marched right up and said, "hey, I was wondering if you'd consider letting me join your group since you only have 4 people." They immediately said, "sure, pull up a chair!" This was one of the best decisions I ever made in college. This was the best group I was ever involved in. I liked all of the people. We worked hard and received good grades. I would later have classes with some of them and worked together in smaller capacities. It was great.
When I joined that group, I emailed the one girl in my original group to let her know that I left. I felt really bad. But I had to do what I had to do. The next class day, I sat with my new group. The professor asked for the list of names of the people in each group. Turns out, the girl I emailed ended up doing the same thing. She left the original group. Our first group was stuck with 3 people. The professor was baffled. He was like, "I don't understand how that happened. I wouldn't have allowed that to happen. Oh well. Guess you guys will just have to make do!" And he shrugged. In the end, that group did pretty well. I think that their dire circumstances kicked them into high gear.
Fast forward to my 4th year of college (out of 5). As part of my Business Management degree, my school has the students spend a semester in what they refer to as "IBC." I don't actually know what it stands for. But here's the gist. You're sorted into groups. You will be with them all semester long. You will design a company. You will determine what products and/or services your company will sell. You do market research. You put together business plans. You request a loan from a committee. Then you start up your business, run it for about 2 months, and then shut it down. It's a huge, monumental task. It was probably the most challenging thing I did in my entire college career.
Your put into a company of 15-25 people (this varies depending on the size of the class as a whole for the semester). Mine was about 15. Our particular company was given a restaurant space on campus and we served food as our business. Within that company, you start out in sub groups. I was in a team with 3 other people. They were pretty cool. Each of our 3 sub groups had to work together to pick a product (or line of products) to sell. Our team did a bunch of work, including surveys and focus groups. We decided to sell pulled pork sandwiches. After 2 or 3 weeks, all the teams and companies met together at this camp that's like an hour from the school. We spent 3 days there. The goal was to bring your sub groups together and marry them into 1 company. We spent most of our time doing team-building exercises much like the above picture of morons on ropes.
Amazingly, it kind of worked. By the end of the 3 days, you get to know and trust your team members. You get a feel for their strengths and weaknesses. You form an emotional bond. At the end of the 3 days, each of the sub groups proposes their business plans. The company as a whole votes on 1 to run with. Our company chose to go with the plans of another sub group. We would sell shishkabobs.
When we returned to civilization, we were told to elect a CEO for the company. That CEO would assign a position within the organization to everyone else. After 2 or 3 weeks, we'd pick a new CEO and move everyone around. then we'd do it 1 more time. The company had three divisions: Marketing, Supply Chain, and Finance. By the end of the semester, everyone will have had some experience in each of these divisions. Most members would have had at least some kind of leadership role. The company elected this guy (who I liked pretty well) that I'll call Chris (all names in this story have changed). Chris picked a COO, CMO, CFO, head of R&D, and an HR rep. The rest of us were sorted into the three divisions. We then pitched our business plan to a loan committee and were loaned about $2000 from the school to start our business.
Then came the first problem. The leaders of the company met with one of our professors to request feedback on our business plan. He told them that shishkabobs were "fair food." Like, food you'd buy at a state fair. Like snow cones, giant turkey legs, popcorn, corn on the cob, etc. They weren't real food that people would pay money for in a restaurant. So the leadership of the company decided (without consulting the rest of us) that we would pivot and serve "hawaiian" food. We added pineapple burgers and teriyaki rice bowls to the menu.
We open our restaurant and run the business. We actually do pretty well, all things considered. Then the time comes to pick a new CEO. Turns out the Christ took it upon himself to choose the next one, without consulting the rest of us, which infuriated me. He made Brandon the CEO. Everyone loved Brandon, because he was a crazy hard worker. But he was a terrible CEO. He had no idea how to delegate responsibility. He just did everything himself. But everyone loved him for it.
Then the shit hit the fan. Right at the end of Brandon's reign, we had a peer evaluation. We anonymously rated the performance of all of our peers in the company. That's when we learned that things were not so sunny in Philadelphia. I received the third lowest rating in the company. One person was rated lower because he was rather difficult to work with on a few occassions, and he got a professor really mad at us. The next lowest guy just contributed the absolute bare minimum of effort. But here I was, working hard, doing my best. Thinking that I liked my peers and they they liked me. I gave nearly everyone an impeccable rating. And I was screwed. The company met together and had about a 2 hour shouting match. I was furious. I learned then and over the coming weeks that multiple people in the team did not like or appreciate me, but wouldn't say so to my face. I don't know who all was involved in rating me so poorly. Except for 1 person: Bert. Bert was the worst. He is self-obsessed. He won't shut up about himself. He will be nice to your face. Then the second you walk away, he will start talking crap about you. I can say with certainty that he is one of the people that screwed me on my review.
I worked my butt off for the rest of the semester. And I went out of my way to make sure my team members actually visibly saw me working so hard. In the end, I passed the course. I think all of my team members did as well. Our team made around $17,000 in revenue over the 2 months of business as I recall. It was a success. I learned a lot.
Mostly, I learned that you can't trust people. Even if they seem nice. Even if they seem to be on your side. They may not be. And you can never really know. They could stab you in the back at any moment and there's little you can do to prevent that. I learned that team building exerices only build superficial bonds. They don't create true friendship, loyalty, or trust. They are only skin-deep. I hate any and all team building exercises because of this experience.
I also learned that first impressions aren't everything. When we went camping, there was a guy in the team I'll call Eli. He seemed like he was just determined to be in charge and boss everyone around. I found it immensely frustrating. Over the course of the semester though, I changed my mind on him. He mostly just wanted to get things done. And he was more than willing to step up and make it happen. But he didn't have ambition to be in charge. He didn't care who was in charge. He just wanted to get the task done.
So I hate group projects (at least for schooling). My MBA program is all online and I don't have any group projects. My final class will have some sort of group project, though. Based on the description, it sounds remarkably similar to the project I did way back in B211. So hopefully my prior experience will enable me to succeed in it.
How do you feel about group projects? Do you have any interesting stories of success, failure, etc? Please share with us!