Crimes against group harmony

Discover the most egregious errors committed by group members, and how to successfully navigate group project waters

Instructors love group projects, especially at BCIT. They’re described as a way to “get to know your peers” and a brilliant form of “burden sharing.” After a semester of experience, I can confidently say that anyone who tells you a group project is either of these things is flagrantly lying.

Little do they know, these four students will soon hate each other — (Courtesy of Ervin Cho)

Little do they know, these four students will soon hate each other — (Courtesy of Ervin Cho)

Group projects are the worst. Survivors, who make it to the due date without bald spots, say that you see the worst in your peers and the worst in yourself. You’ll find that the group’s designated Debbie downer becomes all you can moan about, while you suffocate under the pressing weight of research and responsibility. You will steel your nerves and clench your fists before speaking with the group’s bossypants, whose goal in life is to organize yours. Finally, there are the fillers – veritable pylons, who could be replaced with such.

The things that make group projects dismal are quite simple to fix. If you’ve ever committed the following crimes against group harmony, consider making a change for the better. If you’ve been on the receiving end of a malfeasance, know that your pain is understood – and tape this list to the culprit’s locker.

First and foremost, why don’t you open or answer group emails? We know you got it: everyone is attached to a smart phone (or if you’re unfortunate, a BlackBerry), and it’s impossible to evade contact these days. I was in a valley in Laos and my tour guide answered his cell phone. You’re in Vancouver. There’s no excuse.

No one enjoys putting life aside for a menial group meeting. But since we did, you should too. Don’t make ‘em wait by being late. This rule is easy to remember because it rhymes. It’s super rude to show up 20 minutes tardy and is a guarantee you’ll be verbally eviscerated until you arrive.

[pullquote]”If you’ve ever committed the following crimes against group harmony, consider making a change for the better.”[/pullquote]

At the meeting, open ye olde oral orifice. If you don’t contribute to the discussion, what part of the final project will be yours? Sometimes it’s a matter of shyness, so send your idea in a group email so it can be brought up at the meeting. At the end of the day, shyness can be construed as laziness, so participate!

If you hate an idea, saying, “That’s [insulting adjective],” isn’t the best way to deal. It’s OK if you disagree, but be sensitive. “Maybe we should think about developing some different ideas,” is less likely to result in scratch marks. Conversely, don’t cry if your idea is shunned like an Amish woman using a dishwasher. Group dissent indicates that your brainchild is terrible and/or embarrassing. Move on.

Finally, keep in mind that it’s easy to be hacked as a slacker, whiner, or mini-Putin. In fact, your unwillingness to work may even unite the rest of the group, who will gleefully brainstorm ways to describe you on the peer evaluation and take unique pleasure in circling “ZERO” to outline your unflattering attributes.

With any group, there’s a good chance personalities will clash; managing these dynamics may be the real work of your project. However, keep your goals in mind and don’t take things too personally. Model your behavior on the Girl Scout’s motto: cooperate, communicate and bring the marshmallows for s’mores. You will certainly earn your group work badge.

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