by Erica Ly
How do you work with someone who doesn’t want to be worked with?
You were probably introduced to group projects for the very first time in elementary school. At that time, the attempt to develop collaboration, teamwork, communication, and compromise, were disguised as team games of soccer, tidying up the classroom as a group, or drawing on the chalkboard together. The idea was great, a picture-perfect fantasy where children would learn the essential skills through practice, and grow into wise and versatile adults who can successfully contribute to the workplace and society.
But if the equation of group-work enforcement seems effective to educators around the world, why are group projects still not the most incredible and beneficial experience for all students? Why is it that the more group projects some people complete, the more they begin to hate them? The simple answer is: unequal dedication.
How are you supposed to work with someone who doesn’t want to be worked with? Being a student who generally cares about their grades, you would understand that group projects equate to delegating work and completing your fair share. The concept is simple. However, social loafers – people who contribute less to group projects than they would when working alone – believe that someone who gets tired of waiting for the last piece, will end up finishing their share of the work for them.
For the social loafer, the group experience couldn’t be more relaxing. They receive a high grade for someone else’s work, and they didn’t have to shed a drop of sweat during the process. For the hard worker(s), you’ve had to complete double (or more) of your share of the work, to the point where it pains you to put their name on the cover page to receive the same mark.
As the saying goes “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” As a group member, you can divide the work perfectly so that everyone has to complete the same amount, but if one member under-performs or doesn’t perform at all, your group mark will suffer.
In the past, I had been constantly placed in pre-arranged groups with students in my class who wouldn’t contribute at all to group projects, and the teachers knew that. In my case, my teachers saw me as the “bright” light bulb who could somehow pull these slackers out of their daze and become perfectly oiled machines of intelligence and cooperation. Obviously, as I knew (and I’m pretty sure my teachers knew), it couldn’t be done. If a qualified educator couldn’t make a student care about his or her grade, how would I – an elementary student with no experience in the art of teaching – magically make them realize the importance of achieving high marks at a young age? You only believe in as much as your values and experiences take you.
Since my teacher would only give us a group mark, everyone’s grade was entirely dependent on the end result, not the process. When nobody in my group made any effort to work for a week, I delegated the work and set up deadlines with work due for each member in small chunks. A fortnight later, only my segment was done and the other students hadn’t budged. My teacher had even told me to “turn this into a learning opportunity”,when I told her the situation, and refused to be of any assistance. Hence, I did all the work, and we all got the same high mark.
As the one who completes the whole project, you, as the hard worker, runs one of two risks and either way you are the scapegoat. You either only have to live with the unsettling feeling of unfairness and the lingering disgust attached to group work. Or, the teacher blames you for being too authoritative and not letting others work at their own pace (*which is a terrible argument either way because otherwise the work wouldn’t get done, and your whole group would still be in trouble – not applicable to university professors as the responsibility is yours, but very applicable back in elementary).
This wouldn’t have fractured my vision on group projects, had this only happened once. However, since group work in elementary and to this very day, we all consistently face social loafers (or just lazy and uncaring students in general). In the worst case, we begin to feel numb in regards to caring about delegation and end up endlessly being taken advantage of. That is what kills what could have been the beauty of group work.
The only thing that makes group projects more bearable is the virtuous blessing of the “individual mark” and “contributions list”. These two are the one-way line for all the hard workers in your group to strive for the last piece of justice after excessive work for someone else, and let the professor or TA know the behind the scenes who the social loafer was.
When assignments are based on an individual mark, the social loafer will definitely suddenly strive to the best of their ability to identify the people who “called them out” for their uncooperativeness. Once identifying the hard worker, the latter will be labelled a “snake” and other colourful words by the former. While the elementary version of me would have probably taken it all to heart and wept a waterfall, the current university student version has gone through too much of this petty drama over the years to care about your unrealistic problems.
If you, as a hard worker, begin to doubt the fact that you pinpointed the person who didn’t contribute, just remember this: if the social loafer had done their share of the work, this wouldn’t have happened. They didn’t do the work because they didn’t care enough. So now, they equally shouldn’t care about this mark that they received. If they only start to care now, then they should have worked harder to begin with.
Although all this delegation and social loafer nonsense is undoubtedly stressful and a pain to look at, none of that is the worst part.
Hands down, the worst part of group work is the way it makes you seem when you tell professors or employers that you dislike it. From an educator’s perspective, placing members into a group with different ideas and backgrounds can prove to be an extraordinary learning experience for the students. And to an employer, being a lover of group work suggests that you are easy to get along with, a collaborator, and a team-player – key employability skills. However, the problem isn’t with your personality or the quality of each person’s ideas. The problem is whether everyone is willing to contribute them.
Excluding those who dislike group work because of the communication aspect, most diligent students see group work as unfavourable simply because of the poor experiences connected with the delegation and contribution of tasks in group projects. Individual projects simply eliminate the stress causing factors of working with social loafers. These hard working students are genuinely approachable and do like to work on teams with people – as long as everyone contributes to the final bigger picture.
In all my time of completing group projects, I have been in a grand total of ONE incredible group. Everyone did their fair share, worked in a timely and organized fashion, and we had the project completed a week early. In that moment, I could definitely see how the values of collaboration, responsibility, and teamwork were taught from a single project.
There is so much we can learn from a team effort, but it only follows through when every player on that team is alert and willing to work.
From diligent students to teachers:
Please understand what effort goes into coordinating a successful group project with social loafers. (Group social loafers together? They’ll surely learn that way if they want to pass.)
From diligent students to social loafers:
Please put yourself in our shoes.