Why do most college students cringe when they see the words “group project” on a syllabus?

group projects in collegeSuddenly, a flood of questions come to mind. Are your group mates going to pull their share of the work? Are they going to provide quality work? Are you going to be able to coordinate schedules between five people?

In my three years at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I’ve been involved in more group projects than I can count. At the time doing a group project seemed pointless and an excuse for professors to only grade five projects as opposed to 30, but now I see the value in group work.

All of my group meetings start out incredibly awkward. We don’t know each other, we don’t know each other’s capabilities, and if I’m being honest, we hardly know one another’s names.

The awkwardness fades away as the semester goes on and we find our rhythm. The more I get to know my group members, the more I see how each of their strengths will be useful for the project.

This is not to say that there is not conflict within the groups at some times. But, this is good conflict. It is conflict that is the result of each of our talents coming together and seeking a way to improve our project.

Sometimes we would discuss simple issues like due dates, but other times the conflict got a little heated. Each of us came in with a different passion, and we saw our own passions as the most important. This caused tension in the group project that we had to work through together. We could not be shortsighted and see only what we thought was important; we had to flesh out these ideas and realize the importance of other people’s viewpoints.

Without input from each of us, there would have been something missing. It takes all members to brainstorm, bounce ideas off of one another and share our strengths to be successful. Not only did these confrontations teach us how to deal with conflict professionally, but it also taught us how to combine ideas and be open-minded.

Every career has a component of collaboration. The New York Times writer Claire Cain Miller wrote an article titled “Tech’s Dangerous Myth of the Loner Genius Nerd.” Miller discusses how necessary it is to have empathy and a broad diversity even in the tech world where things seem so cut and dry.

Miller talks about how it’s important to have a diverse range of people making decisions. Because of each person’s background, he or she will see problems or gaps that other people miss. In the professional world, collaboration is vital because different perspectives lead to a more comprehensive result. Learning how to communicate your ideas and listen to other people in group projects is a leadership skill that employers crave from their employees.

Many soft skills, like working with others, are components of leadership. For instance, being able to delegate tasks in a group setting demonstrates that you are able to trust other people and recognize their strengths. Commitment is another skill that employers are looking for, especially within the millennial generation. Employers want to know we are committed to the company and not just trying to get to the next level. We can practice the skill of commitment within groups. Commitment means that you follow through with what you said you’d do. If one member doesn’t carry his or her own weight, the entire group will suffer.

Not only does collaborating on group projects provide an array of leadership skills, but it is also emotionally beneficial. When I have worked alone, I have experienced anxiety, fear of whether or not I was doing something right and a whirlwind of confusion. But, when I have been in groups, I have been comforted that other people were just as confused as I was and we were able to work through problems together. If between four papers, 2 midterms and over 200 pages of reading, I wasn’t able to make it to a meeting, my group members were understanding and took a load off of my back.

group project, teamwork, collaboration, prepare for career success

There’s a reason professors have us work together in every class. As pointless and painful as it can seem in the moment, working in groups is preparing us to be better employees once we graduate college. Group collaboration teaches us leadership skills, listening skills, the importance of clear communication and how to use our skills effectively.

We may complain about group projects now, but in a few years we’ll be emailing our professors thanking them for preparing us for our futures.

By Jordan Howard, UNC-Chapel Hill ’19

For an easy way to collaborate more with smart people on your campus, get connected on Motee!