Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Group Dynamics

As a student, you often wonder why your teachers/professors force you into the torture of group presentations and projects. Students invariably assume what seem to be roles assigned in kindergarten: the worker bee, the slacker, the bossy one, the busy one and the one who goes beyond being a slacker and merely exists. You take your position, and until you graduate from college, that is who you are. You work in groups with people that you may not like on subjects you don't like or know anything about. But still you work.

Come college, the added wrench into the group presentation problem is that people suddenly have lives. Joey and Anna have chapter on Monday nights and philanthropy meetings on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so they can't meet then. Isabelle has student government meetings on Tuesdays, so she can't meet. Saturdays are reserved for whatever sport is in season, and Brad from the football/baseball/basketball team watches tapes/conditions on Sunday and Monday nights. So you attempt to work around these schedules, hoping that at some point, you can work on your project and really make it gel. Occasionally, this works and you produce a stellar result that even you are astounded at. But sometimes, you give a presentation that reeks of "We were never able to have a real meeting and we made this presentation via AIM late last night."

What no one tells you, or at least not in a manner that you are able to receive and process, is that these battles are merely an appetizer for the entree that is "The Real World." Those same personalities that have followed you since kindergarten? Yeah, they're still there in adulthood. And those meeting conflicts? Yep. Isabelle has a morale event, Joey and Anna have a conference call with the D.C. office and Brad is running late on one of his side projects, so he just can't make it at all. You look over your Outlook calendar and find an astounding array of multicolored tabs and little red flags indicating important appointments. You learn to balance the work habits of your co-workers; there's one guy who thrives on finishing his work right before the deadline and no sooner, another who's meticulous nature is somewhat perplexing and leaves you wondering about the state of your desk and filing cabinet. One guy who you just plain don't understand and who has a remarkable ability to relate everything you say to a story he once heard or something that once happened to him.

The challenge you face is to somehow navigate all of that, and turn out stellar presentations, regardless of your group members or the fact that any meeting you schedule conflicts. Because in "The Real World," there's probably not going to be a boss willing to accept sub-par work simply because none of you could sync up your Outlook calendars.

So a year into my "adult life," I'm finally able to look at those lessons I learned way back when, and trying to apply them to my everyday life. And as I do so, I seem to remember a common thread in the looks on the faces of all the professors who ever assigned group projects. I thought it was the glint of a sadistic authority figure, foisting pain and suffering onto poor, overworked and sleep deprived young people (though in some cases, I'm sure that's still true). But instead, I think that was the knowing look of a professor giving you the tools to succeed at a task you're not even aware you'll be attempting to complete.

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