Awful Group Projects

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20 thoughts on “Awful Group Projects

  1. Great!
    My daughter learned: dictatorship works. Democracy is associated with bad grades. Ruthless dictatorship is the only way to go. Cut the lazy and unreliable out of anything that can’t be remedied at the last minute.

  2. I’m forwarding to my daughter, who is in the depths of despair (like Anne of Green Gables) about the multiple group projects she’s currently involved in. She doesn’t hate group projects, likes to work with people, and usually an effective leader (really, not a dictator), but her frustration level is really high right now.
    Michael Winerip’s op ed in the NY Times had a line in it the other day, “like most humans, it’s easier to take more than you give” that struck me as being one of the roots of the problem. I’m guessing that if you polled many people (especially children) after a project, they think they’ve done most of the work, too.

  3. “My daughter learned: dictatorship works.”
    A colleague of mine came away with the exact same idea after a multi-day mission statement writing exercise (it was the biggest waste of time I have ever been involved in). There were a couple dozen of us and we were supposed to be writing a mission statement a line at a time, with our boss facilitating and writing stuff on a flip chart. It was very, very slow. Ultimately, a handful of people went off and produced a draft mission statement and then we revised their draft as a group. That worked.
    I came to a somewhat different conclusion, namely that writing is not a good large group activity.
    The whole program was ultimately shut down, by the way.

  4. “I’m guessing that if you polled many people (especially children) after a project, they think they’ve done most of the work, too.”
    I think the paradox of the group project is that the smaller the group, the more work gets done. (There have been studies, I believe, showing that individuals brainstorming alone come up with more ideas than a large group brainstorming.)
    There’s an old story about a farmer who hires a boy to do chores. The boy does fine, and asks the farmer if he can bring a friend to help. The farmer says no, explaining that productivity-wise 2 boys are worth 1/2 a boy, 3 boys are worth 1/3 a boy, 4 boys are worth 1/4 a boy, and so forth.

  5. bj, when a group member doesn’t _do_ their assigned part of the project, others must do it for them. Multiple instances in middle school of the group leader staying up too late doing others’ work. A friend’s daughter was regularly up until 2 in the morning finishing projects.
    Part of the problem was the schools’ formula for group assignation. One hardworking, able kid, one child with an aide, and two kids in the middle who could be fine. Trouble arose with the kids who were not on an IEP, but did not take the work seriously. (often boys.)
    As the group is assigned a grade, the kids who care about the grade will do the work if necessary. The kids who don’t want to work that hard, although they could, will get a better grade in such a group than they would on individual projects.
    One way around this would have been to give an individual grade for the group project, based in part on a survey of group members on each others’ work habits and reliability.

  6. I’m not so sure group learning like that isn’t a good thing. The people of the “Ruthless Dictatorship Gets Results” school will eventually grow up and find themselves having to do projects that they cannot do by themselves and working with people who respond to dictates by becoming increasingly obstinate. Or as I like to call it “I’m deliberately not doing that piece of work because I don’t agree with your views as to how it should be done, I don’t like you, and you aren’t paying me. You’ll have to fix at least one of these before I’ll do it.”

  7. If certain projects don’t get done, the company goes under. No job, no projects. Problem solved.
    My oldest child had group projects in which the entire period was spent arguing whether the members’ names should go on the top of the page, in the space labeled, “name.”
    The work not done wasn’t left undone out of objections to leadership. Out-of-state Lax tournaments and the release of games like Call of Duty were more likely suspects.

  8. If certain projects don’t get done, the company goes under. No job, no projects. Problem solved.
    Yep, but somehow the kind of person most worried about other people getting their work done always gravitates toward jobs that involve making sure paper work is done properly.

  9. That info-graphic’s pretty dab on, especially in middle school and high school. Even self-selected groups of friends turn upon each other in deep suspicion – will she do the work as well as I would? Will he get his part in on time?
    This may replicate parts of the real world but it’s still really sucky to have your educational evaluation deep-sixed thanks to someone else’s failures.

  10. So what happens in the real world with group work? Does one person end up doing all the work and others get credit for doing less? Is the problem the grading aspect of it?
    (My daughter gets burned on group work, too, fwiw.)

  11. One of the oddities of the terrible mission statement episode was that just about every one of us was individually conscientious, responsible and a self-starter. But put us together in a large group with a facilitator and a flip chart and we became a big, aimless, hair-splitting, time-wasting mob. (I hear that college faculty meetings produce similar results.)
    As I’ve said before, I love the demotivator that says, “Meetings: None of us is as dumb as all of us.”
    http://www.despair.com/meetings.html

  12. The Russian company I worked for was fabulous in that regard. If our weekly status meeting ran 15 minutes, that was considered too long. I was a happy camper.
    German organizations, however, often consider the two-hour mark a good starting point for a meeting.

  13. Austrians are worse, in my experience. My experience consists of 1 German and two Austrians.

  14. I think people are starting to talk now about how good group work functions — Kevin Karplus at Gas Stations Without Pumps has some cites. The first requirement is that the group actually require multiple people to get done. Basketball games, plays, concerts fit into this category because a single person can’t put on (usually, a basketball game, a play, or a concert). Eventually, we have projects that are so complicated that one person can’t do all the work either (design a iPhone, even if the person in charge is a dictator, he can’t actually do everything). The next requirement is that everyone have the ability to contribute to the project (that doesn’t, mean, incidentally, that they all have an area of expertise — if the job is complicated enough you have to delegate even if you could do the work better. The third is that there has to be some incentive to do your part of the work.
    Cranberry — your description is a pretty good example of all the ways MS (especially) group projects fail, in that they assign a project that could be best done by one person (perhaps even by any of the individuals in the group), force the group to work together, and assign the group so that weak and strong candidates are in each group (without the concomitant commitment of a weak person to do the work they can, while leaving the work they can’t do to others).

  15. Now, I think one of the issues with things like “mission statements” and “facilitated meetings” is that the goal is the exact opposite of a dictatorship. The goal is to build consensus through the process, with stakeholders (aargh, I’m using a market-speak word) being invested in the process. So, you gather a group together to build a mission statement for a school not because that’s the best way to write a mission statement but to make sure that everyone felt their voices were heard and that when a statement is developed, everyone is an advocate for the

  16. Gathering everyone together to do something only works if everyone cares. If all the stakeholders feel that a mission statement is important you’ll have a productive meeting. If some of them do not care what the mission statement is you won’t.
    Similarly, as others have mentioned, a group project only works if all of the students care about the grade they are getting. Or all care about the actual product but with most group projects in school no one cares about the product while some students do care about the grade.

  17. What I learned by Group work is that all group work is completed on the last day it is due, and 100% of the work is done by one person ME ! Of course I am exaggerating but only a little.

  18. “My daughter learned: dictatorship works.” Or at least you need a boss, and a job that readily divides up into sub-tasks. Any school group project violates the first rule, and the “mission statement” is a perfect example of the non-dividable task. Writing a book is dividable, given agreement on the overall organization of the book – each person writes one chapter. Writing a paragraph certainly is not. The mission statement might possibly have been handled by sending the members off to each write a mission statement, followed by a meeting to pick the best elements from each one – and then have the best writer fit it all together, with a final group edit.
    This is essentially how the Declaration of Independence was written – they collected a lot of ideas, sent Jefferson off to work alone, and then edited his work. But these were adults; if Jefferson had been middle-school age, he would have refused to talk to most of the other delegates after the group editing cut out a quarter of his draft.

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