What Do You Think of Group Work?


GroupWork What Do You Think of Group Work?

The photo above — which shows students working on one of the “group projects” that have become so ubiquitous  in American education — makes me feel very lucky that I am not in school today. Having to work in so large and close a huddle would make life not worth learning. And it takes a lot to get me to say that, since learning is pretty much my favorite activity.

Back when I practiced corporate law, I found to my surprise that I enjoyed working in and even leading teams. And when I quit law, what I missed the most was the camaraderie, especially how punchy everyone would get after staying up ’til 3 a.m. to to meet some deadline or other.

But these were teams in which we each did our own thing, in our own offices, as opposed to everyone doing the same thing in the same physical space. We would stop by each other’s offices to chat, we would meet as a group from time to time, but we never once lay on the floor on our stomachs with our heads almost touching.

I’ll be writing a lot more on this theme in the months to come. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’d love your thoughts and/or to hear your experiences of group work. And/or: what are your impressions of the photo above?

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  1. L. Adams on 17.10.2011 at 21:10 (Reply)

    Group work is a waste of time in schools, because the kids who are disinclined to push their boundaries can easily ride the coat-tails of the students who are doing the heavy lifting and won’t really learn anything about the material that the project was supposed to address. The strong students stay strong and the slacker kids learn that they can slack as much as they want and still get a good grade. That’s exactly the wrong lesson to be teaching in a world where competition (depending on the field you wish to enter into) is fierce, or downright cutthroat. Kids have to be taught to really know their strengths and use those (whatever they may be) to get ahead.
    After returning to school in my late 30’s to finish my degree I found that group work was pretty predictable in that one or two people invariably end up doing the project and the rest generally coast. I started seizing control of any group that I was put in, and insisting on doing solo projects whenever I had a professor who would accommodate me in that way. It was strictly a matter of self-preservation, because I couldn’t afford to take the chance of somebody else doing sub-standard work and damaging my grades. The bizarre thing for me is that people started looking at me and describing me as a leader, when in fact I’ve always been firmly in the get out of the way (go my own way) zone on the lead, follow or get out of the way continuum. The kids who allowed me to grab the reins from the get-go were comfortable in doing that because they had basically been trained to do that in group projects from elementary school on up. This leads to two questions 1)what the hell are they going to do on the job when they’re handed their first serious project and 2) how will they know when to tell a strong-willed or charismatic leader that he or she is wrong if they’re conditioned to follow anyone who jumps into a leadership role without regard for that person’s skills or qualifications?

    1. Canaan on 18.10.2011 at 00:05 (Reply)


      These are really REALLY good questions. I keep seeing and hearing that twenty- somethings, relatively new to the work world, are having trouble problem-solving on their own, showing initiative, making mistakes, taking criticism. I think, like you, the ‘learn in a group because thats how you work in the real world’ idea may have almost completely backfired. It is upside down for the more independent thinkers, but anyway its just not true: most jobs simply don’t funtion like a communal school project, and as you say, a strong personlaity too easily takes over the task in school, everyone else follows and so 90 percent of the group never lears how to: problem solve, show initiative, make constructive mistakes, take criticism…big surprise. This all needs a big re-think. If anyone is aware of good published work on the anthropology - for lack of a better word - of twenty somethings in the contemporary work world, I’d love a referral. I think there’s a serious set of work problems emerging under the radar screen in the next generation, I see it everyday at work and doubt I’m alone.

      1. casey bell on 21.10.2011 at 14:04 (Reply)

        Well said! I agree that working in teams is likely to result in the best (or hardest working) students doing the majority of the work while some of the others coast.

        In my 40’s I enrolled in a very expensive 9 month computer programming/web development school. Tuition was $25,000! We were assigned to teams of six students each. We had 2 hours of class each day and 3 hours working with our team. Unfortunately some of the students were woefully dis-organized and/or didn’t have the mental acuity that programming required. And some were more interested in socializing than working. I hated having to waste time each day listening to how so-and-so’s weekend went or what they’d watched on TV the night before.

        I felt really ripped off because my ability to learn and hone my skills was compromised by having to spend so much time sitting around in discussions rather than actually, you know, PROGRAMMING! Plus, we divided our team projects into tasks that were divided up among the team. As a result there were many aspects of the technology that I did not get much hands on experience with, instead I mostly got just a second-hand summary from the team-mate(s) who had been assigned those parts of our projects.

        The rationale was that in the “real world” we’d be working in teams so this was supposed to prepare us for that. But in the real world, some of my team-mates would never be hired for that kind of work. I definitely felt that the heavy emphasis on team collaboration significantly hampered my ability to maximize my learning experience.

        Team projects may have their place, but when you’re trying to maximize your learning I think large teams mostly get in the way.

    2. melissa on 05.11.2014 at 19:03 (Reply)

      This is such a refreshing article. As a teacher and an introvert, I see that group work / group activities, under the title of collaboration, dominate in education.
      Respect must be given to shy and introverted students who should have choice in deciding to work in groups.

  2. chel on 17.10.2011 at 21:10 (Reply)

    *shiver* <— That was my reaction/impression!

    To be completely honest, whenever we had group work in college and there was any amount of waffling or problems organizing, I would take charge, suggest that we do series of individual projects, and find a way to remove the "group" aspect from the work. To be honest, my professors never seemed to mind (as long as we had a cohesive "thread" through our resulting presentations/papers, etc. it was fine) and everyone in the group always seemed relieved not to have to do anything but their own thing. The slackers would get by, and the hard workers would get their good grades and recognition. I know that's not always practical, but it was a relief for a lot of us.

    1. Jenni on 18.10.2011 at 17:57 (Reply)

      Yes! I didn’t see myself as a leader, but when it came to group projects, I wasn’t going to risk a bad grade either. For 1 project, I think we only met once to discuss the project, and not everyone could show up. I divided up the project, and had everyone email me their work, and I put it into one cohesive document. I guess it didn’t seem like there was much point to having a ‘group’ at all… Otherwise, I was pretty lucky in college-I rarely had to do group work in college except for some gen-eds. (For my major, I had a tutorial system-weekly one-on-one meetings with a professor?=Awesome.)

  3. Teacher on 17.10.2011 at 21:22 (Reply)

    I never liked group projects in college much. I will have students work in pairs to solve a problem for a few minutes now and then. Most seem to enjoy that. But others prefer to work alone, and I let them. No big deal. But some of my colleagues are more dogmatic about group work, and that has caused some problems.

    I completely agree that these classroom groups are completely different than real world collaboration. I worked in software engineering for many years, and we each did our piece of the puzzle, but made sure our piece fit with the other pieces. I too enjoyed the camaraderie. But it was a very different experience than the group projects in my college education courses.

    Also, serious programming demands complete concentration, and it would be impossible for me to work with people trying to me.

  4. Melanie on 17.10.2011 at 21:39 (Reply)

    I have to say that I agree with you — the picture makes me cringe. I’ve always disliked group work, for many reasons; having to depend on other people’s work getting done, not having power to form my own direction of research or shape the final product and so on. Also, I have never liked having to explain my process as I go, since it’s more intuitive and personal and I don’t need to talk it out to organize myself! I think there’s an overdependence on group work in many settings (workplaces included) and a disregard for people who prefer to work alone — as your entire book goes into :) I am a strong introvert and love what you’re writing and talking about.

    1. Poppy on 18.10.2011 at 09:57 (Reply)

      Melanie wrote: and I don’t need to talk it out to organize myself!

      Bingo! This is spot on, an excellent observation that never struck me before.

      Projects almost NEVER were organized in a way where each person had a chunk to do, and usually required some sort of group consensus on something. When someone with a stronger personality took over, chances were that I would simply do my OWN version of the group project, or collaborate with the one person who managed to take leadership while the other group members goofed off.

  5. Sarah Jones on 17.10.2011 at 21:56 (Reply)

    I hated group work. As the brain/nerd/whathaveyou, I was always the one picking up the slack, and as my quiet self, I never had the guts to tell anyone to step up and do their part.

  6. kim on 17.10.2011 at 22:05 (Reply)

    I’ve done both - as stated by previous commenters - when I was working on my MBA nearly every class required group work - but what we would do is divide up the work and each do a part - on our own. Even at that level there would be slackers and if they were part of the group the rest of us would do their work and that person would get the credit for the hard work of the team. I prefer to be graded on my own effort and hate having to work with groups for anything.

  7. Christy on 17.10.2011 at 22:37 (Reply)

    I mostly hate it, though there are things about it I really like. I do like working together with people I like and who are responsible and good at what they do. But I hate it when a group of people all has to collaborate on the same thing. Nothing ever seems to get done. Like SarahJones said above, I usually end up doing most of the work. Even when the others are not slackers, doing everything in a group seems to multiply the time it takes by at least three. It is inefficient.
    I do work in a group for my job making websites, and it usually works out well, because each person tends to have a specialty and does it well. I do a lot of the simpler programming, someone else really loves to take care of images, one person is good at sales… It’s when I have to work on the same section of a project with someone that I get impatient and it goes slower.

  8. Rebecca on 17.10.2011 at 23:06 (Reply)

    As an elementary teacher, I’m definitely expected to have students work in groups and with partners almost daily. Ironically, I hated working in groups in college when I went back as adult in the 90s - a big group-work-is-the-only-way decade. We were told that students must learn to work in groups because that’s the way it is in the real world of work. The implication is that if students dislike working in groups, something is terribly wrong. To be successful, you must be able to function in a group. For years I’ve felt inadequate because I don’t work well in teacher groups and on committees. I prefer to divide up the work and do my part on my own. I’m more than willing to share ideas, plans, curriculum, etc., but I need to be able to think and create on my own.

    At almost fifty years old, I only recently realized I’m an introvert. (Shocking to me since I’ve always been rather talkative around friends and family and in front of my third graders.) It’s been so validating and eye-opening. Suddenly I see myself in a much more positive light. I’m not defective or anti-social. I need down-time, alone-time…lots of it. I need large blocks of time to think and plan. This has made me consider my introverted students in a new light as well.

    Now that I’m teaching high ability students, I’m seeing more and more introverts in my classroom. Being aware of their (our) needs directs me to think seriously about what I require in my classroom including how often they are required to work in groups. I now find myself giving students the option of working alone or with a partner. Because working with a partner seems less stressful for students than group work, I find myself replacing much of the group work with short-term partnerships. I also consider carefully the pairings, often putting two introverts together.

    I’ve also begun using the term introvert in parent-teacher conferences. It’s interesting to me that parents know their children well and do not correct my terminology. Instead they shake their heads in agreement. As usual a few of the parents voice concerns about their child’s social life, ability to speak up in class, the student’s fear of answering incorrectly, etc. While I’ve never really talked about introverted children negatively, I have pointed out if a child has only a few friends or doesn’t volunteer in class. No more. Now I only talk about their child’s strengths and speak about their child’s introversion matter-of-factly, not as something to change or fix.

    I feel for introverted students in school today. Besides requiring group work and other anti-introversion practices, introverts can be swallowed up in a class of extroverts if a teacher isn’t careful, especially if they’re shy. They can also be viewed as problematic, disfunctional, inadequate. I have an introverted twin in my class this year. She’s a delight! An extroverted co-worker has the twin’s introverted sister. She asked me about my student as she lamented that no matter what she’s tried, she hasn’t been able to connect with this “strange” child. My introvert radar went up. My heart broke.

  9. Paula on 18.10.2011 at 05:42 (Reply)

    The picture went through me like an arrow. I hate that the group learning thing has become an unquestioned norm, an apparently unassailable good. It contributes to pathologizing those of us who work, learn and create better in solitude. What about our learning style, what about the conditions of our flourishing ? Maybe a new slot in the DSM-whatever and a new drug ? There have always been outliers and anchorites, even in contexts where “community” is technically or theoretically unassailable, such as the church. I am really looking forward to your book.

  10. Kristen on 18.10.2011 at 07:47 (Reply)

    I don’t like working with 20 somethings because they often get personally offended if you aren’t constantly working with them, or checking in. A few have actually gotten upset because I didn’t take breaks with them. Not all are like this for sure, but there seems to be a trend. Also, 20 somethings tend to hate individualism at work more than any other generation. There is a lot of “groupthink” going on. The key here is that they seem to take introverted behavior very personally.

    Here is what I think is fundamentally wrong with group work and how the philosophy extends into and affects the workplace:

    1. Leadership is lost, you have multiple bosses, and co-workers to answer to and everyone has their say before anything can become accomplished which makes for a lot of red tape and a unnecessary processes. If you are in a bad working environment, the lack of leadership from management allows the most aggressive employees to take over and bully.

    I have always been more comfortable working for a company with one or two strong, fair leaders who have the control rather than working for companies that promote the idea of everyone working things out together. It just becomes political and a mess. Our society is afraid of having one leader. We detest hierarchies. But, they may provide us the structure we need. And keep the other mini dictators ar bay.

  11. Szarka on 18.10.2011 at 07:55 (Reply)

    I’ve returned to graduate school for the second time, and nearly every class has a group project. They range in size from three-six members, and in scope from a 20-minute issue survey presented with Powerpoint to a complete computer system lifecycle development. I know at least one strong student who deliberately picks out the slackers in the class, teams up with them, and ‘pays them off’ to do nothing. This way the strong one can be sure of having a good grade, and of being able to plan workflow with no nasty surprises. I wish I could be sure of not having to compete against those slackers with good grades in the marketplace. But I also wish I had thought of this strategy years ago.

  12. cheri on 18.10.2011 at 08:12 (Reply)

    Group work was already entrenched in the middle school and high school curriculum by the time I was in school — mid 80’s to late 90’s. It bothered me more at that level than at the college level.

    The idea of trying to do good work in an enclosed space with several groups of 2-4 kids all talking at once… what a joke! I always felt like I couldn’t even concentrate on the assignment with all the noise.

    As I moved through middle school and high school, I also started to feel angry about group work, because it seemed to me that if I was the strongest student in my group (which was very often the case) that I ended up having to do the teacher’s job, and instruct my group members. As an over-busy stressed out high school student just trying to keep up with everything, it made me livid at the time to feel that I’d had that kind of thing put onto me without my consent. Volunteer tutoring I was fine with, and I did that. But I hated having to teach my classmates how to contribute to a project so we could all get a good grade.

    Entering the work force was such a breath of fresh air. Working in a group where each person both contributed and benefited was such a wonderful experience for me, and I finally understood the concept of collaboration.

    My solution? Rank students in skill from highest to lowest, and form groups from the top down. A programming languages instructor I had in college did this, and I thought it was brilliant. The most advanced students would be able to collaborate at their level, and push each other even farther. Meanwhile the less advanced students would be working together to improve their skills, and while the end result might be less impressive than the advanced groups, they could still be graded based on their starting point. And then no one is stuck with the “carry the group” or “instruct the group” role, everyone gets to experience true collaboration.

    Just some of my thoughts, sorry if they’re a bit of a ramble. :)

  13. ksol on 18.10.2011 at 09:01 (Reply)

    The only thing worse than group work in person is group work in an online environment. I’ve taken many classes online, and working in groups when you can’t see people, when people are on different schedules, etc., etc. is a Seventh Circle of Hell task.

    I despise group work in school, and resent the idea that if you don’t want to work in a group in school that you’ll somehow be at sea in the workplace. Group work in classrooms is a very artificial and pointless thing, whereas the average person who is assigned to do a REAL task in the workplace with people they see daily can do just fine working in teams. At least I do, and I’m definitely an introvert.

  14. Chris on 18.10.2011 at 09:03 (Reply)

    Such thoughtful and serious comments. On the lighter side, am I the only one whose first reaction is that there are 2 members of the group who don’t seem to be focused on the project but on each other? This is often a problem in groups where personal dynamics overshadow the task at hand, but maybe that’s the point for most extroverts. It just wears me out.

    The emphasis on group participation has even infiltrated yoga classes, which seem to be attracting more narcissists, team builders and competitive extroverts. My introverted self can’t relax and go within when at any moment the teacher might tell us to find a partner or divide into groups. Just when everyone is good and sweaty too.

  15. Julia on 18.10.2011 at 09:08 (Reply)

    I’m an extrovert (but I love your blog — it’s really helping me understand some of my colleagues), but I, too, loathed group work when I was in school. Like several of the other commenters, I found that the only way to get through it was to assume leadership of the group and make sure everything was done properly. That usually meant more work for me, but I would rather have more work than have to risk my grade on people who weren’t able or interested in performing. I can only imagine how difficult that solution would be for an introvert, however — just another example of “extrovert privilege.”

  16. Ann on 18.10.2011 at 10:27 (Reply)

    Ugh - hated it, still hate it. I always ended up with a group of low-achievers, expected to teach them and bring them up to speed. Too much responsibility for a kid. Now, after 30 years in the “real world”, I’m still an introvert, and I’m tired of the slackers (of all ages - my coworkers are all older than me) and the ones who refuse to know enough to contribute. I’m tired of reminding people of details they should know, and tired of nagging staff to do the work, do it properly, and do it on deadline. I guess I’m just tired. :-)

    My favorite projects are the ones where I just get it handed to me with a “can you do this?” I can close my door, dig in, and succeed or fail on my own merits.

    In my opinion, group work is just a format that allows blame-shifting. Don’t get me wrong - I’m happy to help out anyone who needs it, and I spend a lot of my time cheerfully trouble-shooting other people’s problems, I just don’t like the group assignments; they all end up on my desk, anyway - they just take longer.

  17. Grace on 18.10.2011 at 10:52 (Reply)

    As someone still in college, whenever a professor mentions group work, I cringe. The thing is, I like working with others. It’s great for thinking things through (case in point: in my Children’s Lit class, we’re reading The Eleventh Hour, a children’s mystery book, where the solution is to the mystery is hidden in clues in the pictures). But. I like knowing that if I get a low grade, the fault is no one’s but mine. There are too many variables with group work. Now, I did have a bad experience with group work last year, so maybe that’s part of the problem. But even before then, I’m not a group work person. I’m ok with doing a project on my own but enlisting friends to help, like if I’m making a video or something, because then I’m still definitively in charge of the grade. Then again, I am a self-proclaimed academic perfectionist, so that may be part of it.

    Sorry if this is rambling a bit. :)

  18. Nora on 18.10.2011 at 11:18 (Reply)

    I hated group work in school. For years, I thought I hated science because I dreaded the group lab work so much!

    As a teacher, I have students work in groups occasionally, but I usually try to make it something fun (sometimes that works!). I don’t like group projects for reasons others have cited-from a teacher’s standpoint, it’s very difficult to give fair grades to individual students when there’s a single project turned in.

    For my professional writing class, the “group project” has an individual component-each group member must do individual research and turn in an individual paper, and then the group members need to combine their individual findings into a paper that has a particular purpose-recommending a product, for example.

    I think group projects are important in a professional writing class because, as a professional writer, I know that very little on-the-job writing is done in a vacuum. In other classes, I think it’s important to include group work (since most kids are extraverts), but it’s not my favorite (or my most effective) approach to teaching.

    1. Karen on 18.10.2011 at 20:42 (Reply)


      Your comment about science classes really resonated with me. As a child, I loved reading about science and doing experiments on my own. I thought I would become a scientist and was high-achieving in my high-school science classes, though I liked them less and less. I hated the whole lab-partner aspect, especially the constant performance anxiety of learning to use new equipment and do new procedures in front of someone else. Additionally, many students used the looser structure of lab time for socializing, when I just wanted to finish the project. Urgh.

      I won a science scholarship to college but ended up switching majors after my freshman year. Not because of my science grades, which were quite good, but because I found the four-hour partnered labs so stressful and exhausting. I pictured “being a scientist” as clocking into one of those group lab situations for 40+ hours a week, and I couldn’t imagine thriving in that environment.

      I wonder how many other introverts have drifted from the sciences because of the early emphasis on group work.

  19. Nora on 18.10.2011 at 11:20 (Reply)

    P.S. Regarding the picture, I’m impressed that most of the kids actually seem to be paying attention to the work in front of them! (But the thought of being one of those students makes me cringe. So glad middle school is over!)

  20. Debbie on 18.10.2011 at 11:23 (Reply)

    I hated group work in school and, come to think about it, just about everywhere else. I even hate it when the pastor or other spiritual leader says, “Let’s break up into small groups to pray/talk/share.” But since I know now that it’s because of how I’m wired, I don’t feel guilty. I just work better on my own.

    1. Nora on 18.10.2011 at 11:30 (Reply)

      I hate “breaking into small groups” as well!

  21. MDP on 18.10.2011 at 12:09 (Reply)

    In grade school, my approach to group work was to just start doing the task without even talking to my teammates, and usually do the whole thing myself, so that I knew it would be done right. For me, the biggest problem with that sort of work in schools wasn’t the forced-to-socialize factor, or the people-don’t-pull-their-own-weight factor - though those were both annoying - so much as the artificiality of it all. I never minded working in teams if it actually added something meaningful to the learning experience - if the task naturally gives itself to collaboration, that’s one thing, but usually we’d just be told to sit down and write a paper or something with three other people (which makes paper-writing harder). In college and the work world, team work only came up where it made sense, and I’m fine with that.

  22. Melanie on 18.10.2011 at 12:57 (Reply)

    The picture makes me cringe. I agree with what so many of you have said - I experienced a lot of frustration with group work, but lucked out in having very little required throughout my academic experience. I can derive a lot of energy from a group working together to share ideas - picking the new theme for my highschool yearback, back in the day - that was great fun to brainstorm together. Any situation where groups or group dynamics (like feeding off of each others’ ideas) is beneficial is wonderful…there just aren’t a lot of projects like that in school.

  23. Kristen on 18.10.2011 at 13:20 (Reply)

    There’s a balance, we do have to work with other people often and it’s a good skill to learn. But, I think our society has taken it too far. The problem introverts have is that we don’t like thinking things through with a group. I have often had a co-worker or boss call or meet with me without having thought through things themselves and the expectation is that we will think like one brain together. To me, it seems like they are jumping around ideas, changing their minds, rambling. I just cant understand why they can’t bring a completed, finished thought to the table. OK, now I’m getting negative, sorry. But, those kind of conversations always make me uneasy.

    1. Christy on 18.10.2011 at 18:39 (Reply)

      I like what you say about introverts preferring to think alone rather than in groups, inside our heads rather than out loud. It certainly puts us at a disadvantage in a group.

  24. Kristen on 18.10.2011 at 13:24 (Reply)

    Oh, and I enjoy ideas and brainstorming with people, just when it is a creative and innovative endeavor. Not for simple, everyday tasks.

  25. Elaine on 18.10.2011 at 14:35 (Reply)

    My comments are based on my experience teaching gifted students, working as an elementary school library media specialist, and many hours observing students in classrooms as a educational diagnostician.

    Group work may be used effectively but is often a waste of time. Look at the time spent structuring the groups, maintaining group focus, and reporting. When I was in grad school, I noticed some professors scheduled enough group projects and presentations that the prof only had to show up. I didn’t pay tuition to watch my classmates “stage” their pieced-together ideas about the subject matter.

    Whenever I’m participating in a class and the instructor starts organizing us into groups, I want to get up and leave. As an instructor, I find myself looking for ways to restructure the class activities to avoid losing time and focus.

    The worst is when every group is assigned the same problem and then each one reports to the entire class, thus, saying the same thing over and over.

    My observations support what others have said. Someone takes charge, often by default, and others assume more minor roles. Ask most females who are placed in groups with male coworkers who is usually designated the scribe, another word for “secretary”? Chances are, unless she objects, it is a female member of the group. Then a guy gets up, does the talking, and is viewed as the smart one in the group.

    1. Alison on 21.10.2011 at 07:41 (Reply)

      Interesting. I am often the “scribe” in group situations, and find that it is a position of significant power. I get to choose how the thought captured is worded, what sequence the thoughts are presented, and often which thoughts are captured. By being the final “wordsmith”, I can define the final direction of the meeting and the conclusions that are reached. Plus, my co-workers find it helpful, often saying “Yeah, that’s what we meant” when I summarize a long discussion in a sentence. I seldom speak up first, but I often have the final say.

  26. Canaan on 18.10.2011 at 21:06 (Reply)

    One analytically useful excercise here might be to try to extract out the scenarious in which group collaboration might yes be constructive. Kristen said brainstorming creative ideas is an area that does work for her in a group. and obvioulsy some measure of group interchange is inevitable and important. so what, where, and when is collaboration indeed useful for introverts?

    1. Nora on 19.10.2011 at 00:20 (Reply)

      I enjoy collaborating when (1) I’m given time to process things before the “brainstorming session” takes place (I love it when a group leader sends the meeting invite several days or weeks in advance), and/or (2) the collaboration is mainly via e-mail or wiki or some other “online” method where the primary mode of communication is writing.

      When I get into a collaborative group, I become very jokey-the comedian-I think as a self-protective thing. Like other introverts, I think and work best when most of that thinking and working is allowed to occur in solitude.

  27. Donna on 18.10.2011 at 22:35 (Reply)

    I was never wild about group work, and I’m still not in grad school or work situations.

    As an introvert who thinks things through rather than talking them through, I dislike unorganized group work because the talkers dominate and control the project. Rarely does anyone say, lets take 5 minutes to think quietly about our own ideas on the subject and share them with each other. The talkers just dive in and make decisions with each other before I even have a chance to think about the task.

    As a teacher I see the value in group work because it forces students to process the information they are learning, discuss with other students and apply it properly. Because I know that not every student is the same, I would require the students to think through their own ideas in advance of talking to each other about them. The education community has also developed very orderly ways of organizing group work in schools today. Techniques like Think-Pair-Share and others do allow time to think individually at first. Many times each group member is given a role of some kind; the reader, recorder, time keeper, reporter, etc. This helps clarify what each student should do and prevents dominant personalities from taking over.

    I still have problems with group work because my way of processing information is different from many other people. I do agree that there is quite possibly too much reliance on group work in schools today. It does get students involved who might ordinarily sit by and avoid working, but it can become a crutch for students who get used to always working in groups and then do not develop confidence in their ability to accomplish whole projects on their own.

  28. Darren on 19.10.2011 at 04:59 (Reply)

    Wow - what a lot of comments. It seems this really touched a nerve! I don’t know if this kind of group working is common here in the UK but it wasn’t when I was at school. That said - in the school I went to ‘group’ = ‘fight’ :)

    For the record I feel the same way as the others about this - the thought makes me cringe. I love going to my gym but I hate it when a trainer tries to partner people up to work together. I also find myself agreeing with Chris - my yoga teacher was replaced by a younger one who insists on pairing people up, consequently I no longer do yoga classes.

  29. […] Previous Article: What Do You Think of Group Work? […]

  30. Anne on 19.10.2011 at 18:37 (Reply)

    I noticed the one kid that is sitting slightly on the periphery looking in to the conversation. You have to wonder why? I think group activity is especially tough for shy kids or kids that are uncertain of their ability (whether athletic or academic).

    Reviewing the previous comments, a lot of you mention that you are introverts but also are the ones that “took control” in those situations so I would generally think that you all are not shy about your aptitude/intelligence so which allowed you to pull through in the group class setting. However, if someone is introverted but SHY or lacking confidence…well, they may have a harder time and not feel comfortable taking control or leading on a project. I would hate to confuse the feelings of shy/uncertain with introversion, which I associate more with processing internally…but I’m not the expert. :-)

    Some people prefer to listen from the sidelines because they are shy or lack confidence (not necessarily the same thing but related I suspect).

    On a side note, I am getting trained in the theory of “Agile” development, which is rooted in the principal of lean, continuous improvement and other related theories. One of the guiding rules is the concept of “co-location” which is sitting people to work in small groups, in a “pod” format that essentially removes walls/barriers. The class facilitator mentioned that they had to modify the layout a bit to allow 1) more space and 2) more privacy for the developers. I found it ironic because chances are that these developers consist of a lot of introverted types, who relish their thinking space. On the other hand, the concept of co-location to stimulate brainstorming and iterative problem solving is valuable. You would have to drag me out of my office kicking and screaming!

  31. ghada on 20.10.2011 at 09:13 (Reply)

    i hated group work in middle and high school. i tend to work on my own schedule, with everything organized for a specific time and place, and as an introvert, i find that pretty hard to explain to anyone, including group members. teachers would make this even more difficult by placing me in a group of slackers, so that i’d pick up the pace, but two days into the work, it would be only me compiling or sometimes even redoing everyone else’s work. i understand that this is a way of exposure to different types of people and the only way to learn to deal with them, but i don’t feel i learned much.
    now, a while into college, i’m shockingly enjoying group work because i like the organization (you basically have the right to tell a dominating member to shut up because you have something to say), the people i work with (who are just as willing to work as i am), and the subject matter. it was difficult in the beginning, but now that i’m used to the people, i pretty much say what i have to say. hopefully, the next step will be leading the group (leadership’s by weekly rotation).

  32. Tom C on 20.10.2011 at 09:51 (Reply)

    Teaching via group tasks should include proper role identification and rotation of roles. Who is the “idea person” the “leader” the person that executes? If left un-managed, kids (and adults) will drift to the role where the feel most comfortable which leads to less challenge and growth.

    Introverts needs to lead, and idea people need to see projects through to completion. We should not formalize bad habits.


  33. Kris on 20.10.2011 at 19:01 (Reply)

    How interesting. The picture in your post makes me happy - a group of children working together. And when I think about my own school-aged children in an activity like that pictured, I think “neat!” I think my children would be happy in such an activity. Yet, I was just in a training class at work this week where we had to complete a group activity and I found it dreadful for so many reasons. In my work - high tech product marketing - everything we deliver is the result of a team effort. Releasing a product requires engineers, marketers, tech writers, operations people, etc. But the way that we work is to, mostly, individually complete our tasks and meet periodically as a group to share status. I wonder if it’s different for children because so much of learning is play, and much play can be done in a group. You’ve definitely given me a lot to ponder.

    1. ksol on 21.10.2011 at 08:49 (Reply)

      Kris — I think the short answer is “no.” :)

      I don’t know about all children, but it wasn’t different for me as a child. Group work stunk then, too. Group discussions were fun — when we could each bring to the table what we had developed on our own. But working in a group on some arbitrarily assigned task? Misery then, and misery now.

  34. casey bell on 21.10.2011 at 14:19 (Reply)

    Good point about being stuck with the “carry the group” or “instruct the group” role. As students, it shouldn’t be our responsibility to do those things, our first priority should be to maximize our learning experience and skill development. Unfortunately I feel that the emphasis on groups is in part a reflection of the reduced school budgets and larger class sizes. It may be a crutch that allows over-worked (or in a minority of cases, lazy) teachers to get through the day.

  35. Laura on 23.10.2011 at 11:25 (Reply)

    I’ve just returned to college after getting my BA 15 years ago. I was shocked by how much group work there is in classes now. If you get the right dynamic, and in the right situation, it can be a great tool. I generally just find it a chore. But the practical problem with group work is that with everyone talking, even everyone talking about the issue at hand, I just can’t think.

  36. Vincent on 24.10.2011 at 04:35 (Reply)

    I’ve always hated group work.Discussion was complete waste of time,when you couldn’t even make decisions without any arguing.The lazy people let the good students do all the work.I hated it when we all get a low score,just because someone in our group blundered.I always prefer individual work,no arguing,no calling each other to discuss the project,and you always get things your way.I have done about something like fifteen group projects through my whole lifetime.None of them turned out well,I always got a low score on cooperation.I personally think that how well you can do by yourself alone is more important than how well you work in a group.

  37. Andi on 25.10.2011 at 07:01 (Reply)

    Group work is one of the worst parts of school if not the worst. I would rather do the work for the entire group on my own then have to coordinate and deal with a group of people. Thats probably mostly because I am so introverted but also just cause I’m type A… either way group work is the worst.

  38. Christy on 26.10.2011 at 13:14 (Reply)

    I just discovered an interesting podcast or interview or something on this very subject. This woman has written a book on the subject called “The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture.”

  39. Kirstin on 03.11.2011 at 11:43 (Reply)

    OMG I HAAAAAATED group work in school. I hated it in middle school and the way through to graduate school. I remember either just blanking out to get through the forced, time-sensitive socialization or doing all the heavy lifting and getting really frustrated. I learned WAY less on group projects than on individual projects.

    And I agree that it does NOT closely resemble team/group work in the workplace. I love being part of a team or committee where each of us is contributing something unique.

    The issue of time and physical space is very important to a lot of introverts.

  40. […] I ran a couple of posts asking for your views on group-work and collaboration. You responded with great passion, and great […]

  41. Alexandra on 09.11.2011 at 15:18 (Reply)

    As someone who is currently working on her MBA, group projects have become the ever present hurdle in ever semester. I usually don’t mind working with groups, but trying to find the time to collaborate with a group of full-time working students (some with families), group work had become a nightmare.
    However, last spring, one of my group members suggested we use this online program called Group Table (www.grouptable.com). It allowed us to upload/revise documents, set deadlines on our group calendar, assign tasks to members, as well as live chat-giving us the opportunity to collaborate virtually. One of the best parts, was that it held everyone accountable. You could see who was contributing what, and at the end of the semester, we invited our Professor as a “guest” to see our progress and determine our participation grade. Ever since, myself and my other classmates still use Group Table for group projects in our other courses.
    Many people have their regimen when it comes to group work (google docs,etc), but Group Table honestly made everything so much more organized and easy to do.

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  44. karen on 29.07.2013 at 14:36 (Reply)

    I read your book and I agree with its premise. I feel like a lone wolf in a high school setting right now.

  45. Lily on 20.10.2013 at 23:24 (Reply)

    OH MY GOSH, I absolutely HATE group work in school!There’s always that one person who does NOTHING. And that person who added a random blob of him somewhere that caused us to get a low grade. Worst memory was in elementary, the math teacher allowed two people to solve a problem together. I was fairly good at math so 865,366,453,993 people practically made me do the work and copied the answer.

  46. Bradley Herron on 05.04.2014 at 12:15 (Reply)

    I think I’m a few years late into this discussion, but I’m quite confident that others like myself may eventually seek out this page and find some solidarity.

    To reply to the title of the article, most of the time, I absolutely hate group work. I’m the one who usually sighs with apprehension when I hear “get into your groups”. I’ve returned to college after four years in the US Army and, being 30 years old, I find myself often tolerant of 18-20 year olds at best. Sometimes, I tend to lose points in a class because I disagree with working with uninterested, lazy students so I won’t even bother complying with the “get into your groups” request.

    As someone who values their education, I feel quite strongly about taking full advantage of the institution, but not the task of attempting to motivate others to work. Perhaps, that may be construed as a bit selfish but I see it as a personal responsibility to show up to class ready to work. Yet in explaining to some of my professors why I feel this way, its often the case that I’m given the appeal to authority. So I’ve considered meeting with the Dean of the College of my major to discuss my concerns.

    Contrastingly, it’s not always the case that I end up having to work with people whom I think of as dead weight. It just usually happens. I can think of cases where my group members were very accomadative and communicative of each others thoughts and concerns. Although great, these instances are just very rare. I can literally count the number of times this has happened and not come up with more than two or three instances. More recently, I’ve ended up with students who, honestly, should not be enrolled in college because they’re not mature enough to consider the subject matter critically. I don’t want to trail off and go on about that though…

    The reason that I hate group work is that I know that I learn better, focus and retain information better when I’m working on my own but consequently will not be accomodated in this way. It seems very obvious, to me, that introverted and extroverted personalites are factual and certainly have something to do with learning styles also. Though, I’m afraid this idea is not credible to an institution of education in America that constantly promotes social values to generate interest. An example of this is any brochure for a college that I’ve ever seen. They always emphasize the element of social life, life-long friends and community gathering. Nothing of which ever appealed to me, frankly.

    So usually, I’m stuck in the same awkward situation with others in establishing mutual interest of subject matter. If I sense that the other person is disinterested and apathetic then I work alone and take my chances discussing this with the professor after class. Although I’ve recently explained this to one of my professors, I feel that it’s only been lip service to someone who would rather take the cookie cutter approach to classroom education. It’s quite frustrating to say the least.

    As a person who has been forced to work in groups, many times, I tend to consider how its going to affect the work I will do after graduation. I know that it will certainly be a determining factor in the career path that I choose. So all the group work situations I’ve been up until now warrant the consensus that many times group work slows me down. Not to mention, the feeling of being the only genuinely interested person in a group is very draining.

    Based on my feelings about group work I know that I would much rather have a career that offered a substandard salary and allowed me to work by myself rather than a generous, competetive salary that surrounded me with many people.

  47. Lillith on 05.04.2014 at 23:55 (Reply)

    I have grown to detest groupwork in grad school. It is so overused. Group work is a tool that should be used for the right jobs in the proper situations. The problem is that some professors use group work for everything-like using a hammer on a screw. What I especially hate is writing “group” papers with lazy people who read and write at a high school level. Ugh.

    And then there are those profs that constantly have people “break into small groups” to discuss then report. God how I despise those words. I’m going to puke next time I hear them. Why can’t they just teach the class themselves???? I get nothing out of this forced timebound “socialization”. Bleh.

    Then there are those profs that don’t really believe in group work but they feel pressured to include it. So they have us break into groups of two or three, divide up a chapter or pick a topic to do a simple presentation on. This is tolerable and much better than writing a paper with people. But I can’t help but wonder what the point of it is.

    My favorite profs are those that require individual work, and that’s it. They actually prohibit collaboration on exams and some projects. Those are usually the old ones getting ready to retire. They don’t buy the groupwork psychobabble and can’t be pressured by faculty to do it.

    My next favorite are those profs that do a lecture/whole-class discussion format where the whole class sits in a circle configuration and everyone is required to talk. These profs include a low-stakes, token group proj.

    Grad school should be about building individual competence and work ethic. We don’t need “group projects”. We’ve been doing that since kindergarten. Smart, hard workers need to explore our own potential and develop it. Slackers need to learn to pull their own weight.

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