The dreaded group project

I hated two words in high school.

It wasn’t test day, SATs, detention or demerit. Everyone hated the thought of exams or getting in trouble, but I hated something else completely. What could be worse? I hated group projects.

“I need you to find a partner,” the teacher would say. Every part of my being would start to panic and dread the work. I panicked for a variety of reasons:


–Would my partner be as motivated and care as much about their work as I did?

–Would the work be distributed evenly and collectively as a group?

–What would happen if my teammate procrastinated on their work, making our effort look sloppy and thrown together.

–How tough would the work be? In my mind, if we needed to pair up, then the work had to be extraordinary, it had to be excessively hard.  

–Who would present because if you worked in a group then you automatically it seemed had to present to the rest of the class?


In the end I survived high school and college group projects, only to see many years later the alarming two words reintroduced into my life when I went back to school to get my Master’s degree.

“Really? We need to find a partner? We can’t work alone?” I asked my professor.

The prof stopped his pacing, looked down, and gave me a look like I had asked the silliest question he had ever heard. He paused for the longest time before saying that I was missing the point, that he was simply duplicating real world challenges.


I thought about reminding him that I had been in the “real world” for more than 10 years, that I wasn’t fresh out of college, but stopped short and let him get back to his self-aggrandizing rant.

I still think the “group work” that so many teachers force is a joke, a poor example of the real thing, but I have learned a few survival tips over the years:

–Identify the goal from the start and then stick to that goal like your life depended it.

–Manage the personalities, manage the personalities, manage the personalities. If you don’t manage them, they’ll manage you.

Measure twice, cut once. Okay, not exactly, but the idea is the still the same: monitor progress and stay on top of the deadline.

Be clear upfront on everyone’s role. In the same breath, work as a team. Everyone has something to say, everyone has something to contribute, find the right balance and make it work.


The workplace is full of group projects and these suggestions are all pretty basic, all mentioned thousands of other times in a thousand different places. They’ve helped me though in battling the little annoyances and challenges that group projects create.

As I think on these basic common sense approaches, it makes me wonder why the political world fails to follow through on a few of these principles. If Washington D.C. lawmakers focused on just a few of them, instead of petty partisan fights, I can’t help but think we wouldn’t all be better off.

In the end, when we work together, we can move mountains. When we don’t, we all fail.


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