Throughout high school, college, and graduate school there were two words that always created a sense of dread in me.
I hated group projects. From my perspective they made my life harder and my expectations were always that the results were going to be worse than if I just did the work myself.
As I have shared stories about this with others, it’s clear that a lot of people have similar reactions to group projects.
Because you’re reading, I’m willing to bet you are one of them.
What’s the problem?
The complaints are all too familiar. If this were Family Feud, the audience would likely have provided these top answers:
- One person does the bulk of the work, and others contribute little to nothing.
- Working with people you don’t like.
- Working with people who have different ideas about what needs to be done and how to do it
- Everyone shares equal credit for unequal effort.
- Hassles associated with getting everyone together.
- Wasting time in pointless meetings.
- Slow progress because of the challenges in making a decision.
- Being dragged down by weak teammates.
Have I missed any?
The moment I saw the light
I remember sharing a story about a time that I scanned a classroom and quickly identified the classmates I didn’t want on my team. I didn’t want to work with them because I thought they wouldn’t do their fair share.
Imagine my surprise when a workshop participant shared his view that
“Maybe they didn’t want to work with you either because they thought you would be a control freak and try to do everything yourself.”
Touché. Had not considered that…until then.
I already knew that solving major problems, creating new innovations, overcoming market competitors all require the efforts of a team. Still, I didn’t like being forced into a team.
It was the challenge from the participant that finally helped me change my emotional response to group projects.
Group work is the work
While individuals still do the majority of process-oriented work (Pay invoices, answer customer questions, give performance reviews), project work usually involves making some sort of a change. Almost all significant workplace initiatives will be done in a group.
Take note of all the projects happening around you. Are there any that don’t involve a team?
In many organizations, work is nothing more than a never-ending group project. There are task forces for this and cross-functional teams for that. It’s all about collaboration.
If you are some sort of creative genius, perhaps you can work by yourself and invent cool stuff. For the rest of us, our cool stuff will likely be created with others. Few can say, “I did this.” It’s almost always going to be, “We did this.”
So if you don’t like group work, and find yourself constantly working with others; I image work is a tough place to be. Perhaps you can think of another type of work to do.
How to change your perspective
Maybe you can learn to appreciate group work. It happens when you change your focus from the hassles to the benefits. There are many. Do any of these resonate with you?
- Gaining access to skills and experience that you don’t have.
- The support of others who are working toward the same goals.
- Learning from people who do it differently than you do.
- Being around someone who can carry the load when you are having a bad day.
- Returning the favor for someone who needs you to step up.
- The camaraderie and friendship of having teammates.
- Building on an idea you would never have had on your own.
- Teaching others what you know and seeing them grow.
Speaking from personal experience, when I struck out on my own in 1996, I lost my colleagues. When I woke up in the morning with a new idea, I could be on it that day. There was nobody whose buy-in I needed. I didn’t have to work through other’s opinions about how my idea might be better.
It was liberating.
But over time I began to miss my colleagues. I had a growing sense that my ideas would be better if they were refined in collaboration with others. I felt the anxiety of not having backup. I missed the intense debates about goals and process. Perhaps it’s always easier to appreciate what you don’t have.
Yes, there are challenges associated with team projects, but informed by the years, I’ve reached the conclusion that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
To tip the scale in your favor, the secret is using solid teamwork practices. Set your team up for success and be amazed by what you can accomplish, together.