My freshman year at the University of Illinois I was assigned to a group project in an intro honors philosophy course. The project required the group to prepare for and participate in an in-class debate against another group of students; each respective group representing an opposing ethics theory/ ethics system. This group project really stands out in my mind as one of the most positive experiences I have had in a group-project setting. To this day I am still keep in contact with my group members. The group all clicked automatically in during our first group meeting planning our arguments and rebuttals for the debate. I remember our first group meeting being incredibly unproductive, but in terms of group bonding, we excelled. Our groups had been randomly assigned, and this project was for many of us the first opportunity for all of us to really socialize with one another. I think this benefited the outcome of the project because no one in the group had major predispositions about the other members’ work ethic or skill etc. There was no need to be concerned with cliquish behavior either, as we had all become acquainted for the first time. As well the group was very gender balanced there were 2 males and 2 females in the group.
I will call my clan for this group project the “ethical environmentalists”, as this was the position we were arguing in the in class debate. The element that initially broke the ice for our group was the mutual agreement that we were all “lost at sea” if you will with this class, we could all level with one another that this ethics was one of the most abstract and challenging classes we were taking that semester. Connecting on that one element right off the bat already had us all making future plans to form a study group before the next class exam. Another factor that benefitted the group, and made the dynamic so positive was that we were all James Scholars, as members of this honors program, there was an automatic understanding that academic success was shared priority.
Beyond this the group was able to achieve a really good balance between productivity and socialization. I don’t know if I have ever laughed so much while working on a group project, except for this one. We had inside jokes, would share with each other our crazy, hilarious or embarrassing college stories, and we even had a competition to see which one of us would be “accepted as a friend on Facebook” after we all had sent our professor a Facebook friend request. We were all very comfortable goofing around. Yet, when it came to crunch time we all pulled through on our respective end of the project. We pulled together our strengths to bring the project together. We had one group member who took the initiative to organize the group he would set goals and deadlines that would guide the completion of the project. His leadership was fundamental to the operation of our group. As a group we divvied up the work and did the majority of the “hard work” separately and then would come together to show our progress and we finally met to put the final touches on the project. Separating the work into individual components that we were each responsible for, and then holding each other mutually responsible for completing the task maximized our productivity and efficiency and then allowed for “group bonding” (if you will) when we met- an overall recipe for success.
Not all groups, and group projects are created equal, any college student can account a horror story of a group project gone very, very wrong. My own tale comes from my experience as an RA planning building wide programs with a staff of 10 other Residential Advisors. The program was geared toward social justice education and was called “Little Restaurant of Horrors”. The basic premise of the program of the program was that the RA staff would cook and serve a spaghetti dinner for the residents who came to dine at the “Little Restaurant of Horrors”, while the residents ate RAs would act out common scenarios of prejudice and intolerance that a college student may encounter, following each scenario would be discussed and debriefed with audience of residents.
I was the central coordinator for the program. When the program was first being discussed the overall sentiment among my staff members was one of eagerness and excitement. Tasks for the program were divided up in and assigned to committees of two to three RAs, such as food purchase and preparation. The actual event was a success, but the preparation leading up to the event, was nothing short of mayhem. Part of the downfall in the organization of the even was in my managerial style. I gave each committee a general idea of what their responsibilities were and sent them on their merry way. I trusted that each committee would follow through with their responsibilities without setting deadlines or checking in on the committee’s progress until right before the event, this led to a last minute scramble on my part, with some assistance to fill in the gaps where the committee’s had a fallen short.
Another major downfall of this event was the lack of commitment to the program from several key members of the staff; on the day of the event several people arrived late to set up, while others goofed off during the event- this individual ended up dropping several liters of drinks which erupted like Mauna Loa all over him and the staff kitchen. There seemed to be a general lack of dedication to the program- so staff members just did not come to understand the amount of work, and coordination and cooperation a program of this magnitude would require. Some of us came ready to give it our all, while the rest hung along the sidelines thrusting the majority of the work onto just a few individuals.