Over this last semester I have noticed certain truths about course related group work. Many times, the professors ask us to choose project groups based on the direction of the group. They assume that a coehesive group will form around each idea. I am of the opinion that this is a (tm) bad idea . Here’s why:

From my experience it is the exception that such a group will be successful. Not the rule. This fact leads to many fruitless group projects which in turn reinforces the stigma towards group work. The main reason for failure is difference in expectation between group members. The difference in expectation runs afoul of the golden rule of group work; all tasks must be divided as equally as humanly possible. Those not doing an equal share are considered “dead weight”.

Team members within the same group naturally have varying levels of commitment to the course. For those who have a high commitment to a course, they expect to expend a large amount of effort on the project. This large amount of work divided equally among the group amounts to a certain amount of work. However for the people who only wish to do what is necessary to succeed, the total amount of work for the project will be less. When this lesser amount of work is divided over the same group of people it works out to be (suprise) less work per team member.

Now all sides feel obligated to fulfill the amount of work that they deem necessary to achieve their goals. Therefore the overachivers will do more work than those who wish to simply succeed. This naturally leads to confrontation because the golden rule of teamwork has been violated. Now neither side had intented to break the golden rule but by their own respective goals they have violated it. The overachievers feel like the succeeders are lazy and the succeeders feel like the overachievers demand too much. This does not lend itself to good group dynamics.

I feel like the best way this problem is to form groups based on expectations rather than direction. This is difficult at best because people are not always honest/good at determining their level of expectation.

However if you find yourself in an aforementioned group there are things you can do to solve it. The key point is that the group can no longer have a flat organizational structure. There must be a mutually designated and accepted leader. This leader should do less actual project work and devote him/herself to striking a balance for the team. They should make sure to encourage the succeeders and to bargain down the overachievers. They should plan out how the project should be accomplished and direct the appropriate people to the correct tasks. Oddly enough this is how real world teams work. Sadly this will not work in an academic setting because we are suppose to learn the project material not how to manage people.