Sunday, 4 November 2012

Group Murk

Oh, the joys of group work. UU seems to fancy group assignments. I am not a fan. There are wonderful people who are a joy to work with, who do quality work, understand the meaning of the word deadline, and would never dream of letting down their group mates. And then there are the rest. You know, the ones who wait until the last minute to do anything, throwing off everyone’s schedule. The ones who turn in minimal or substandard work and then wax indignant when called on it. The ones who feel victimized by the audacity of those who actually expect them to do their fair share of the work. You get to share a grade with these folks.
Of course, you encounter this ilk in the working world, as well. However, in that context there are real consequences for having a pattern of telling colleagues that you just don’t want to do it, you have other priorities, or the dog ate your brief. For one thing, you can get fired. At the very least, you acquire a reputation that won’t be putting you on anyone’s short list. Indeed, you may wind up on quite another list. For good or for ill, a professional reputation is earned through not only how well you do your own work (or not), but how well you function as a team player (or not). You can either be relied upon, or you cannot. Word gets out.
I suppose that is the reasoning behind required group work in academia. The problem with that is that there really are no consequences for being a slacker in this context. Those who take their work seriously have a few very unpleasant options. First, bite your tongue, say nothing, do nothing more, and watch your grade sink to the level of the lowest common denominator on your team. Second, bite your tongue, say nothing, do more than your share, and share a good grade with those who contributed too little, too late. Third, insist that people step up and do their fair share of the work, and live with the ensuing drama.
The first two options are more peaceful externally, but internally can be the stuff of ulcers. The third option can sometimes turn out quite well. Some people actually get it; they step up and the resulting good grade is appreciated – and earned – by the whole team. But some people just never seem to learn. So what is the solution? If given a choice in group mates, choose well. If not given a choice, hope for the best and give the benefit of the doubt. If the worst happens, you just do the best you can, even if others do not. In the end, we all have to live with what we have (or have not) done.

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