I Hate Group Work

The irony is not lost on me that I help people collaborate for a living, as I was always that student that disliked group work. Now, I’ve raised four people who are like me in that way. Sigh. Still today, I often work alone.

Dig a little deeper though, and it’s not surprising that I would devote considerable attention to helping groups create the conditions for successful group work. I want fewer people to have to endure group assignments that they could do faster and better themselves.

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Two recent experiences have reminded me of the power of collaboration that actually works.  In one case, I sat in on a workshop on collaboration aimed at nonprofit Executive Directors. Their enthusiasm reminded me that sometimes, collaboration is the best or only pathway to getting things done that are far bigger and more impactful than anything an individual agency could do alone. Try ending homelessness by yourself.

The other was a task I needed to complete in my role as a board member for an international association. In that case, I took the assignment as far as I knew how, then connected with four other board members about it for one hour and one email exchange. They applied their skills and perspectives, and we pushed the product over the finish line quickly and in much better shape than I could have delivered on my own. What made it work?  We were all sharp, keen, busy, focused and committed to a similar outcome, so we got it done. Wiser decisions faster.

So, my skepticism about group work was tempered a bit this week.

But a line from one of my kids is ringing in my ears, “I don’t mind group work, if I have a good group.”  Doesn’t that feel true?  But what makes a group “good?”

Considerable research is affirming that diverse teams perform better across multiple business metrics. One reason why might be that those teams need to work harder to come to a decision. When they do, it’s already been pressure tested.

It’s easy for us to nod our heads in support of diversity on teams, but the hard truth is that people on those teams will, by definition, think differently from one another. There will be many moments where it may not feel like a “good group” to me because they won’t see things my way, and reaching consensus won’t come easily or quickly.

More on this throughout February — watch this space. Wiser decisions faster indeed.

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