Why group work fails


Horror stories and perspectives regarding the worst assignment at university

Well, it’s that time of year again, or should I say it’s always that time of year: time for the dreaded group project. Maybe you’re one of those odd people who actually enjoys group work. I, on the other hand, detest it beyond belief. “It teaches you valuable interpersonal skills and cooperation.” No, it doesn’t.

Group work teaches me: one, how to be lazy and not pull any weight if someone else is willing to take the initiative; or two, how to take charge and be a passive aggressive control freak if the other group members aren’t up to the task.

Group projects are a horror story, plain and simple. If you’ve been on the internet within the past decade, you’ve probably seen the quote, “When I die, I want my group members to lower me into my grave, so they can let me down one last time.”

This is a pretty common sentiment. Multiple blogs, Tumblr’s, and sub-reddits are devoted to the horrors of group work. For the purpose of this article, I spent a few hours on blog platforms, as well as reddit, reading the horror stories users have posted.

Some of these stories were entertaining, such as, “I was the only sober one during the whole project,” and “Only one person in my group spoke fluent English,” to stories of a much more sensitive nature: “The stress of this group project and the terrible people I’ve been forced to work with contributed to my suicide attempt.”

Obviously, the last one is a little extreme, yet it’s understandable. These projects can be worth a lot of your final grade, and if your team sucks, that’s a lot of stress and worry you have to deal with. I find that group projects can be worth up to 40 percent of a final grade, and I also find that group projects often produce lesser quality work as compared to an individual project. So,

we have to ask ourselves, why do professors continually assign group work when students hate it so much and the final product is often sub-par?

According to collegemagazine.com, “Group projects aren’t going away, so get over it.” Florida State University communications professor Larry Bodkin told College Magazine, “Most employers believe that the creative synergy caused by group work is essential to success. Therefore being able to work effectively in groups is a vital and employable skill.”

Students complain about the stress of group work and fear that these projects will lower their GPA, yet Bodkin stated that the real world skills learned from group projects are more valuable.

“Since group work is a real world skill, I use group projects to help prepare my students for these working challenges.”

Photo courtesy of hercampus.com

Photo courtesy of hercampus.com

As students, we are already familiar with some of these real-world challenges: the people who are never able to be reached and subsequently set up a meeting time, those who are continually unavailable, and those who contribute absolutely nothing to the meeting and parasitically leach off everyone else.

It’s these types of people that make group work so awful, yet in the real world, on the job, it’s people like this that we will be dealing with. This is how professors like Bodkin justify these team assignments.

I suppose learning how to effectively deal with less than ideal situations (and people) in university is better than learning on the fly in the workplace, but I (and others, I’m sure) could definitely still go without having to deal with group projects.