Group projects need not threaten sanity

Victoria Riggs

Victoria Riggs

Group project. Two words that strike dread in the hearts of many college students.

From outward appearances the group project may seem to be a devious plot used by instructors to torture their students. However, there is a method to the madness of it all. Understanding the method is the key to turning the group project into a valuable preparation for future performance in the work place.

There are two main principles involved in succeeding in a group project. Simply stated, they are recognizing the different personality types of group members and knowing how to work well with them.

Our first comprehension of personality types probably began in the sandbox in kindergarten. There were those who shared the toys and those who didn’t. Those who threw sand, those who dominated others and those who played in the corner by themselves.

Sandbox politics stay with us for life. The same personality types tend to surface in a group project and, ultimately, in the work place.

First and foremost, evaluate what kind of person you yourself are to work with. Are you obnoxiously domineering, silent, lazy, controlling or cooperative? Self-evaluation is difficult. Asking an instructor for feedback may be threatening, yet invaluable. Would YOU want to work with yourself?

Susan Fredrikson, employment development director at the SDSU Career and Academic Planning Center, says there are some recent statistics that clearly demonstrate how important it is to learn to work well with others.

According to a 2000 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the cost per hire of each new employee is $6,207.

“Teamwork is one of the things of most value to employers,” Fredrikson says. “Qualities they rate highest in importance are communication skills, honesty and integrity.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that one of the biggest contributors to employee turnover is the inability to work well with others. Good team players are a valuable investment for employers.

The NACE website also lists interactive skills, teamwork and a strong work ethic as qualities that employers look for when hiring.

Michael Haug,instructor in the English Department, puts an emphasis on the group project in his class curriculum for that very reason.

“The reason why I emphasize the team project in my technical communications class is the fact that many businesses operate on a team approach to getting projects done,” Haug says. “Many major tasks are team oriented rather than individual task oriented.”

Haug went on to say that the division of labor through teamwork is highly popular in many corporations because it means less work for everybody.

“Even an individual in private business must be able to work well with others,” Haug says.

Jim Paulson, associate professor in the Journalism Department, also uses the group project to give his students an opportunity to experience real-world professional futures.

“In the communications industry, whatever one – advertising, print or broadcasting, most projects are done in a collaborative environment. People don’t work in isolation,” Paulson says.

Group projects force people to look at others point of view, Paulson says.

“The group project requires an individual to work together (with others) to complete a project,” he says. “Each student brings a different perspective to the case, a different view of the world. Diversity adds a lot to the ethics discussion to get all sides represented.”

Paulson summed up the benefits of participating in a group project as three major points.

(1) Each student has to be able to work with others.

(2) It allows the process of understanding group dynamics (individuals’ strengths and weaknesses).

(3) The diversity in opinions and how others react based on various backgrounds gives an opportunity to develop teamwork skills.

Employment is basically a group project that will last for at least forty years. Accept the challenge to turn the next group project into a learning-for-life experience.

For more information about what qualities are at the top of employers’ wish lists, go to the NACE Website at and click on “press releases.”

#1.885296:22552223.jpg:groupshot.jpg:Even if everyone shows up for the group project one person often ends up doing all the work.: