Working in groups – works like a charm or a complete nightmare?
Group work is often hard, but at its best it can also be very rewarding, especially in working life. In the school world, the importance of group work seems to be growing every year. We hear a lot about how group work can be educational and helpful in the world of work, because in there everything is done more or less in teams. Is this the case in all sectors? No.
Personally, I have never liked group work in school and have been very vocal about that. I didn’t like working in groups in primary school, high school or university of applied sciences. Why is that?
Mainly it is because I always try to get as much done as possible before the deadline. This means that typically, I start working with assignments as soon as possible, and prefer not to wait until the last minute. Only on a few occasions have I come across people who think and act in exactly the same way in a group, which means that when it comes to group work in general, I tend to become rather anxious from the start.
Too many bad experiences, I guess.
I understand that the purpose of group work would be to learn something from other people’s ways of working: here of course lies the possibilities that I could try to change something in my own style.
I am not saying that my way to do things is the best possible way to go. But, my own view is that it is pointless to go from an efficient way of working that I am very much used to, to a less efficient way.
The main problems
The biggest problems in group work are, in my opinion, the difference in preferred times that everyone wants or is able to work, and also the different styles of working methods. Nowadays, when a lot of work is done remotely, it is also more difficult to keep the group together than if the work was done in school within certain time limits.
As an MBA student, I also have to say that when the majority of students already have their own careers and possibly small children, finding a suitable time for group work is certainly not easy.
In group work, I myself have never learned enough about the whole subject. Typically, for example, creating reports starts with each member of the group choosing their own section and then, at the end, you as a group start to link these sections together. This means that everyone focuses on just one or two things, and the overall picture can be lost.
That’s why I prefer to do all the tasks on my own: it gives me a better overview. I also keep to a clearer schedule and my time and energy is not wasted trying to get others to do their part within the agreed time.
Group work also almost always, unfortunately, involves students who have little or no motivation to do the work. There are free riders in every class and every group, and I think that this is also a real problem.
We are studying a degree for ourselves, not for others. So why should I, as an efficient and productive person, help an unproductive and lazy student to graduate with my own work? If that’s not unfair, I don’t know what is.
The importance of group work in preparing for working life
Teachers and lecturers like to argue that group work is important because it teaches us important skills for working life, as only a few jobs today allow us to work completely alone. I strongly disagree: there are in fact many jobs, especially for entrepreneurs, where there is very, very little need for actual teamwork.
And if you look at my current job, for example, I am part of a team but the majority of my tasks are mostly autonomous.
In working life, it is rare to have five people doing practically different parts of the same task. Each area typically has its own experts, so everyone brings their own skills to the project and each is needed in a different way. This is rarely the case with group work in the form of reports: a lazy and unmotivated student can be replaced by another. In working life, this is not so straightforward.
Think of it through the projects of a digital marketing company, for example. I myself am a consultant on a long-term project for a client as a country manager. My job description includes managing affiliate marketing sites for the Finnish market. This includes content design, publishing and search engine optimization, as I have already mentioned in previous posts.
However, I do have other people in my team: writers and their manager, and my closest colleagues. The closest ones are SEO managers, with whom we make decisions on search engine optimization strategies and measures. Cooperation with the different team members is smooth and things get done, as we each have our own areas of expertise and clear tasks. I enjoy working in this way very much. This however, has nothing to do with me learning anything about group work at school.
As I posted earlier, I think in universities of applied sciences it would be more important to talk about people skills than have the emphasis on group work skills. I would also appreciate, if lecturers wouldn’t talk about team work as something that everyone needs in their working life. Many of my fellow entrepreneurs in various industries are currently working mostly on their own, and team work is not present that much.
Exception to the rule: when group members have the same motivation and pace
So do I have anything good to say about group work in a university of applied sciences? Yes, because there are always exceptions to the rules.
During my BBA studies, I ended up twice in a group where all members had the same drive to get things done. In these groups, I learned a lot about the subject matter of the course and about working in a team, but also about the life experience and work history of the other members. I found these group work sessions to be very fruitful in all respects.
So, I strongly believe that if forming of the groups were really left entirely up to the students, and if it were possible to make changes quickly if things don’t seem to be working, group work could be of enormous benefit to the students.
However, the idea that most group work would be genuinely productive in terms of learning is, in my experience, completely utopian and wishful thinking. For the most part, group work in school has only served to grow me as a misanthrope and not much else.
MBA studies are easier
At the previous university of applied sciences, where I started my MBA studies, group work was practically compulsory in every course. I was very critical of this, as for certain every student at this level has more or less work experience already. So there is no longer any need to learn group work skills. Instead, it is more productive and smarter to focus on doing the tasks yourself, either for your job, your current role or your own company. Fortunately, at Xamk, at least in this first semester, group work is not compulsory for the most part.
We as students have had the opportunity to choose whether we want to work in groups or not. Has this resulted in students not forming any groups at all? No. Has this resulted in me being able to utilize every course assignment straight to my working life in my projects? Yes. Am I happy? Yes.
Based on what I can see in Peppi, it looks like later there’s a course or two where group work is mandatory, but I am actually very excited to see how it turns out. This group I am studying with, seems to be filled with professionals from various fields and I truly think that I can learn a lot from my peers.
Images in this article from Xamk’s image bank Emmi.
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