The Problems of Group Work

Okay, I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking I’m about to go on a lunatic rant about that one time the 7th gradebiology teacher had us do group work, and I did all of it and only got a portion of the grade.

And you’d be… not completely wrong.

Back then I considered a love for group work the province of mediocre teachers. It was slightly above “Call me first name” or “you’ll teach me more than I teach you” but on a par with “the class will vote on your grade.” (What? You think I’m joking? Laughs in “you must not have gone to school in a revolutionary socialist country. I hated that with a purple passion on account of being obnoxious and widely disliked. I eventually found out threats, early and often got me the As I had actually worked for, but I still hated it muchly.)

By the time I was 11 I had two ways to deal with group work: If forced into a group with pudding heads, I told them I’d do all the work, we’d have an A, please for the love of Bob – Heinlein – smile and shut up. Nine times out of ten this worked. The tenth they insisted on attempting to think and hurting grade. (And filling the classroom with a burnt smell.)

The other way to cope with it was to throw fits and sulk until the teacher let me pick my own group.

Then pick my fiends who then as now, tended to be creative geniuses.

This last often produced sublime results. I think it’s what the better teachers were aiming for. There is only one problem with that: you have to know your group, and be on the sort of terms with everyone that you can say “no, that’s crap. Try this.” without terminally breaking the working relationship.

So, what is this in the name of?

What you’re looking at is any bureaucracy. Any bureaucracy ends up being group work, and unless you are high up (and in the US not even that, if you’re a GOP president, because they’ll scream bloody murder) it’s with “randomly assigned functionaries.)

Now bureaucracy was “invented” in the west by Louis XIV, an autocrat who could remove you because he didn’t like the way you tied your cravat. (And what removing meant you don’t want to know.)

It worked well for a structure with a smart and ruthless leader. (For a value of well, and for a certain size of country. I have personal opinions on Louis XIV. I ain’t gonna go down that rabbit hole. (And you think you have beefs with Lincoln!))

It works horrendously for a government where the heads and nominal heads change every few years. Not only are we being governed by group work, we’re being governed by perpetual self-aggregating eternally self maintaining group work.

One in a hundred might be the kind of person who does the work anyway and tells everyone else to shut up. The rest? Some of them, heaven help us, are trying to think. The rest are trying to look good for teach/party line.

So, what can be done about that? Isn’t bureaucracy needed?

You know…. I don’t think it is. Not at federal level, in a country the size of ours. The vast array of federal bureaucracy should be dismantled for everything, and devolve to the lowest possible level at which things can be run: state, county, parish, city, whatever.

My only quibble is with stuff like the military which, though it’s not being used that way, is intended to fullfil the actual Federal duty of defending the border. I have no idea how that would be organized at the lowest possible level, or if any re-organization is possible. The system is opaque to me. But I’m sure some of ya’ll have ideas.

Anyway, this rule by group work gotta end, because honestly it doesn’t work. Not in school, and certainly not in real life.

158 thoughts on “The Problems of Group Work

  1. I’ve found that “group work” is the most effective way to demonstrate the problems of socialism. Everybody has a group project horror story.

    1. I didn’t have a team horror story until I was 32. I’ve mentioned the story before, for my second degree, luckily very short term project. The big project for the second degree consisted of 4 of us, while not particularly used to working together, were all older, very off campus living, and just been burned in situations similar to mine.

      Prior to that, other than my major term long Forestry project, projects were always pairs, working as partners. Forestry project were four of us and used to working together outside of class, voluntarily, in classes and clubs. Thus while, lots of work, we each earned our individual and group grades.

      Work place teams? Not really. While technically part of a “team”, ’90 – ’01 two different jobs, my role was individual. No one did what I did, so that part of the team was all on me. ’02, at the second job, I was part of a 6 part team and we just meshed (devolved to one person team member no fault of team, that happens when employer lays off 2/3rd of the team, reassigns another, the only reason the 2 survivors survived was due to family leave). My last job, 12 years, while we all worked on the same software system, should have been a team, it was not. Not by any definition. Didn’t even have to do with “There is no I in team”. No back stabbing, no complaints of anyone else working towards anyone else. It was the culture already in place.

    2. Yeah, my first was in college. Was put in a team of four for calculus, of all things. Only, two of my teammates stopped coming to class, didn’t drop, just stopped showing up, so they stayed on the roster. Because of that I ‘failed’ the class despite getting straight As on homework and tests. After that, if there was anything about ‘group work’ on the syllabus I found a different section of the class to switch to.

    3. Not much memorable group work in high school… but college made up for it.
      Software engineering course – junior level course.
      32 students, divided into two ‘companies’ – each company divided into four teams doing:
      – Accounts receivable
      – Accounts payables
      – Inventory tracking
      – The backend database (the team I was on, yay me!)
      We had to take the data requirements from the other three teams and build the storage tools.
      In AWK and CSH (no SQL for us, no real data bases for us)
      With the same deadlines across all teams. (Oh, you need our requirements? They won’t be firm until deadline. sorry, that’s your deadline too.)
      And the first grades we received were midterm – which was the last day to drop without penalty… and were delivered 2 hrs after the turn-in time for dropping.
      The three other guys in my team were all taking other weed-out classes – so I got to do almost all the programming.
      Must be why I still remember it 35 years later.

      That was a painful course in how not to manage and plan a project.
      Back in the day when Ma Tech ate her young (and that’s the clean version)

      1. Not quite that bad for one of my CSS classes. We were split into groups for the backend portion. Given the other aspects. Also early enough that SQL, while being invented, wasn’t available for lowly under grands. My group, luck of the draw (drew lots) had not one, but two, of the 3 of us to have extensive prior training and experience in programming that included information storage, and retrieval. All we had to do is define the file layouts we wanted, then figure out best method using the current “tool of choice”. We met right after assigned class, had the file layout, screen user interfaces, designed before we left that meeting. Two people assigned to start coding, third assigned to write up the formal design specifications. By our second meeting, we reviewed the design specs, and were tweaking code. Was also prepared for the “mission creep” portion of the lesson. No advanced warning, just at a better spot than other groups. It was easy to tell which classmates had career programming experience. When (students, you know this was coming) “That isn’t Fair!” complaint was uttered, those of us laughed (couldn’t help it, tried not to honest, okay not that hard, but still …) Won’t say we turned in the assignment any earlier than other groups because all 3 of us had Life outside of school (all 3 married, all 3 working for pay, 2 of 3 also had children, well technically I did too, but I was carrying mine 24/7). Note, this group + 1, was the group I was in for the final, from scratch (come up with concept, execute) project.

        Note, my biggest downfall in group projects was never execution. Presentation portion however, minimal at best. Despite Toastmasters. (Walls don’t move in on me anymore. I don’t black out the presentation; don’t remember doing it. I don’t want to throw up. Otherwise …) Never really haven’t got past that fear, unless very small group of people in audience, which classes weren’t small enough.

      2. I remember the course where the professor did not curve. The first test was a nice bell curve peaking in the mid-70s. The second test, passed back the day AFTER the drop deadline, peaked on 50. (Me, I got over 100. That was the test I took with the flu.)

        I had heard rumors that he had been handed back his grades and told he could not flunk so many students. Well, I could add to them. I went into the final knowing if I got a zero, I would get a D, which was very reassuring. 25 for a C, and 75 for a B, and nothing could get an A because it only had 20 points of extra credit. I got an A.

        1. Speaking of demoralizing group work, I once worked for a company that paid on a curve. They called in an incentive program, but the way it worked was rather the opposite. This was on top of the fact that it was telephone interviewing, which ranks right up there with telephone sales as being nearly as odious to the one doing the interview as to the person being interviewed. The average employee tenure was about a month. The only thing that kept them going was a limitless supply of starving college students.

        2. My AP Physics teacher graded “on a curve”, where 92% of the highest cumulative point score was an A, 84% was a B, etc. One other student and I scored so high on everything that he had to not count our scores as the “100%” point and go with the third place score, or else he would have had to give most of the rest of the class Ds.

    1. Every society, once administration gets large enough, seems to invent some form of it. The Mesopotamian city-states had their temple bureaucrats, the Egyptians likewise, and both included the rest of the government. The Chinese did it on a larger scale, but it wasn’t (as best I can tell. I’m not a Sinologist by training) the same as the western system Louis put in place and that everyone else copied.

      1. Kenneth Galbraith actually did some good work on the topic, and concluded that any organization that gets larger than 31 people becomes a bureaucracy, and hence, inherently inefficient.

        (Being Kenneth Galbraith, he then immediately jumped to the conclusion “therefore nationalize all the things!” Because leftists gotta left.)

        1. That conclusion is so stupid it makes my brain hurt. Marxism: Making smart people do fucking stupid things since 1840-something.

        2. Even that “31 people” inflection point, if that’s what he said/wrote, indicates his socialist leaning; since everyone is an interchangeable widget, of course we can set a fixed number for any trait. The actual people involved, and their strengths and weaknesses, are irrelevant.

    2. If you’ve read ‘Inferno’ (Niven/Pournelle, not Dante) you might remember Himmuralibima, the world’s first bureaucrat under Hammurabi.

      His eternal punishment? Trying to fill out his retirement forms. In triplicate. In cuneiform. In Hell. The heat baked the clay tablets solid before he got them half-way finished.
      ———————————
      People can make stupid mistakes, but only the government can force everybody to make the SAME stupid mistakes.

      1. /me looks at the bureaucratic BS I have to put up with…
        He got off easy, I say make him do DISA STIGs for all eternity…

          1. Circa 2002, I worked a 10-week contract job in an “Office Space”-like environment, including the manager who was a female clone of Lumberg. It provided a paycheck at a time that I really needed one, but I was glad when the contract was up and I moved on to the next one.

    3. Probably. But China is China. Hence I mentioned introduction to the west. (I can’t remember if I forgot to type that part.) Also bureaucracy is different in the west. (No … literary credentials, for one.)

    4. I think it was invented in China shortly after Confucius, and was profoundly Confucian in its orientation…That would be about 500 BC…

      1. I think not. Confucius emphasized having things run by gentlemen. It was probably Qin Shihuangdi who bureaucratized China, under the inspiration of legalism (one of the things he’s noted for doing is standardizing weights and measures), even if later generations of bureaucrats studied the Confucian classics.

  2. Imperial China demonstrated over and over and over again why bureaucracies eventually cause more trouble than they’re worth.

    That’s in a region in which the bureaucracy is such an important part of the culture that Sun Yat-Sen made the bureaucracy the fourth branch of government in the constitution that he drafted for the Chinese republic he was trying to create

    1. When I took courses on Chinese culture (a general education requirement) we learned about the five branches of government (of course it was five; in China everything comes in fives): executive, legislative, judicial, examinations, and control (designed to monitor whether the others were following the rules).

    1. I might have mentioned I have 4th, 5th and 6th cousins in a broad band from Louisianna to TN and sprinklings throughout the deep South. Heaven knows how they got there, but my claim to be part hillbilly holds.

  3. “Now bureaucracy was “invented” in the west by Louis XIV, an autocrat who could remove you because he didn’t like the way you tied your cravat. (And what removing meant you don’t want to know.)”

    I think I know. There’s a scene in the “Man in the Iron Mask” movie starring Leo DiCaprio (I can’t find the clip on YT) where Louis XIV, having ordered food that he has already been informed was rotting be distributed to starving peasants only for said peasants to have riot because the the food is in fact rotten, stalks up to his Chief Advisor, rips the man’s badge of office from his jacket and hands it to a random underling, and tells the underling that, “You are the new Chief Advisor. Execute him [the former Chief Advisor] for distributing rotten food.” And the stunned New Chief Advisor hauls off his equally-stunned predecessor to the gallows, because he knows that he’ll die too if he refuses.

    1. Did you really just bait her with a movie loosely based on one of the Musketeer books?

      Pardon me, I’m just climbing into this hole here. Pay no attention to the sounds of the steel door being dogged shut…

              1. The fish of Sarahon go about in schools.

                This should terrify anyone who has experienced the public school system in the last thirty years (at least).

              2. Alive without breath;
                As cold as death;
                Never thirsting, ever drinking;
                Clad in mail never clinking.
                Drowns on dry land,
                Thinks an island
                Is a mountain;
                Thinks a fountain
                Is a puff of air.
                So sleek, so fair!
                What a joy to meet!
                We only wish
                To catch a fish,
                So juicy-sweet!

                Gollum!, Gollum!!

        1. …and GoGo DoDo appears, to point out a sign up ahead…

          ENTERING HUNLANDIA
          The Rules Are Different Here
          For Carp, of all things,
          May Spontaneously Appear.

          Beware Carp Holes.
          And is strange, innit?
          So many can appear,
          They exceed Chandrasekhar limit!

        1. Don’t get me started. The only film version of “The Three Musketeers” that I really like is the Richard Lester version from 1973/74. The best acting that Charleton Heston ever did.

          1. I think you mean Richard Chamberlain, and I liked that one a lot.

            But I also like the 1938 one, and that had nothing to do with history.

            I liked the portrayals of Phillip as tough and heroic, if a little hotheaded, rather than DeCaprio’s gelded wuss.

              1. Yup remember seeing that at the local theater (was walking distance to my home). I think I spent a whole $2 and that included popcorn AND a coke. Was just getting old enough that Ms Welch was intriguing, though I missed a lot of the byplay between her and Mr. York. I don’t care how acurate it is to history or the book, as a movie it works 🙂 .

            1. Heston was Carp-dinal Richelieu, not a Musketeer. Quite the weary ruler, rather disgusted at his agents.

              Did you know there was a 1948 version with Gene Kelly and Lana Turner? Haven’t seen it yet.

              1. Do not bother, it is inferior to the ’70s one. Gene Kelly is an excellent dancer, but his acting is rather ham handed to my taste.

      1. It has nothing to do with either the book it’s named after or history. But it can be a fun watch if you have a room full of friends to laugh at it…

        1. Yes, but you know, a lot of people and not just kids, take their ideas of history from movies/tv series. So this bothers me, just like blackwashing does “Because it’s a lie.”

    2. Louis XIV engaged continually in extravagant gestures like Versailles and foolish wars…He drove France into bankruptcy, from which it never completely recovered..

      1. Versailles was political and from Louis’ point of view completely successful. The wars could have been done without, though it was really only the Spanish Succession that broke the state finances and only because they lost too many battles, Given the stakes, Italy, Flanders, Spain, well, you might throw those dice.

        I’m not a fan of Louis XIV, but I’m also not a fan of the ancien regime narrative that has grown up.

        1. Yup. Louis XIV was trying to deal with a nobility that was more than a little fractious. So he set up shop at Versailles, and handed his surplus nobles make-work jobs…which kept them playing greasy pole games with each other. While Louis ran France and let Turenne and Vauban try to conquer half of Europe. (FWIW, there’s a strong case that Napoleon was merely the final phase of a 150-year era in which France was the Great Headache of Europe)

        2. Yeah, I’m kind of done with all the pearl clutching about a ruthless, moderately intelligent man doing ruthless, moderately intelligent things to protect his own interests, while the people leading the neighboring countries were also less than saintly people mostly out to protect their own interests. What he did hurt his country in the long run, but you could say the same of Britain’s increasing dependence on its colonies for raw materials, or the Hapsburgs’ dependence on power-brokering through marriage.

          I like to joke that the Brits believe every peer-level enemy they’ve ever fought against is Literally Hitler, and they’ve only been right once. But in fairness, every cultural unit is that way about its enemies, more or less.

          1. I’m Irish, so my view of who the Hitlers were isn’t what the Sassenach might think. In practice, When going through the histories, I only “root” for the English against Napoleon and Hitler and even then recognize it was Austria who was Napoleons great enemy and the Peninsula was a sideshow. Hell, it was the Prussians who won Waterloo and most of Wellington’s army were German or Dutch.

          2. Dan Carlin had an English history pocaster team on “Hardcore History” the other day who joked (I think) that Britain should have joined the German side in World War 1 so they could finally deal with France once and for all.

          1. It got bad during the Spanish Succession war. War and bad harvests. Genuine starvation throughout much of France.

            Sorry, the Spanish Succession war, particularly in Italy, is one of my “special subjects.”

            1. Nothing to be sorry for, but in the US there’s this idea, born of a lot of bad movies, where the kings INTENTIONALLY told the peasants to starve or something.
              And yes, Louis barely survived the Fronde as a small kid. It leaves marks.

              1. To be fair, anyone who is watching our current “betters” tell everyone to eat bugs and buy electric cars if they can’t afford gas might be inclined to think that rulers through the ages have been just as clueless and callous.

    3. I would be very careful using a DiCaprio movie as source material. Yes, Louis XIV promoted less powerful nobles and even commoners, had you survived the Fronde and knew anything of French politics over the two hundred years before Louis, you’d do the same. Louis would occasionally sack a minister but he didn’t execute them, Fouqué was imprisoned not executed. I can’t think of any that he had executed.

    4. I kind of liked the movie. Didn’t care for DeCaprio’s portrayal of Phillip, but his Louie was delightfully loathsome.

    5. Looks like a good thing I choked on the opening.

      (Look, guys, if you really are so insane that you want to marry for love, what you do is go to your father and explain, and then he goes to her parents and arranges the marriage.)

  4. When you can pick a task for yourself to do, you sometimes can know enough about your own skillset and the problem to judge whether you can do the task well.

    Project management, and systems engineering, are skillsets precisely in part because collaborations inherently involve limited information about the skills of all participants.

    A team of willing participants can sometimes map skillsets to tasks when working on a new problem, and have things go predictably well according to plan. But, this tends to take skill, practice, an established team, and still can be very rare. Once work increases beyond the scale of what a person /can/ do, it takes a lot of work to keep the team communicating well enough for a consistent understanding of what it is that they have done, are trying to do, etc…

    Bureaucracies may have even worse inherent information scaling, etc. issues than even teams.

    You pretty much reduce the communications down to forms, which limit the information that can be communicated, and those limits are a pretty huge trade off in terms of the ‘thinking’ that the bureaucracy can do. Okay, sure, there are other communications channels, and their use is essential to keep a bureaucracy even functioning at all. But, those channels are not bureaucracy wide, they are a subset. There is a lot of local communication that needs to happen in terms of all sorts of things, like moving forms around, developing new forms, processing forms, bringing in and training new bureaucrats, etc.

    1. Depends on the group. In my dealings with juries and MBA workgroups, you pound down the nail sticking up and move forward…

    2. It depends. In my dealings with juries and MBA workgroups, you get a consensus, pound down the nails sticking out and move forward…

      1. That’s why I prefer Grand Jury duty to petite (case) jury duty. Grand Jury just requires a majority vote, and isn’t a conviction, merely an agreement that the presented facts show that more likely than not, a crime was committed, and charges can therefore be filed and brought to court. (Of course a plea agreement at that point may mean the case never actually makes it to court.)

        1. Haven’t served on Grand, only Petit. Of the 3 trials, most of the same jurors served with me. We were careful to serve justice. 2 convictions (they clearly deserved it) and 1 acquittal (police were a*holes so this was a warning shot across their bow). Other workgroups I’ve been on – get with the program and don’t reinvent the wheel, you’ll be fine.

  5. At a level of automation where GEICO can expect people in California to use their insurance services by website and app without ever talking to a live human being, and Amazon customer service has roughly the same expectation, there is no earthly justification for the amount of bureaucracy any first-world country has.

    1. “there is no earthly justification for the amount of bureaucracy any first-world country has.”

      You have to define consistent processes, and handle all exceptions. Given the number of conflicting laws we have at multiple levels, that isn’t a possibility.

      Amazon controls all the steps in the process of selling a book. One source of process.

  6. Bureaucrats R Us is a common issue in any/all government organizations. I spent considerable time dealing with the idiotic as a state level employee in several areas and states. Group work was often an expectation of the management types but us peons figured out ways to dodge that and actually get something done once in a while. The big ‘thing’ for several years was the “self directed work group” or as know by those who had to do it – clusterfark. The idea: https://managementhelp.org/groups/self-directed-groups.htm

    It was a lot like Sarah’s school experience (for me at least) where I told my group to get coffee, leave me alone and provide cover while I got the whatever done. I also worked with groups where I got the coffee and was on over-watch and had no problem with it. I had a boss once who had weekly meetings with our group to chart team progress… the reporting of progress made on progressive processes was often awesome in it’s convoluted tracking and nonsense would abound but, as long as the boss was happy (and ignorant) all was well. At the end of my employment life I got a dream job where I got to do/run everything and was actually provided the resources to do it. The boss was great too in that we agreed on results (real accomplishment stuff) and when I got it done it was really done. Alas, she passed away and the final few years I had to deal with knaves, fools and clowns so did the ultimate employee exit – retired.

    With that, I agree with earlier observations that bureaucracies that we have today need to be dismantled and the structure redone to make it actually work in the small and limited way it should and well below the current idea of “Fed is best” for all things.

      1. Bueracracy? Probably not. What I think we need is responsibility and accountability for those that serve us. And I must insist that the things they are responsible for be few in number and limited in scope.

        As things stand now, I cannot think of a thing government has touched that is has not effed up, off hand.

        1. I haven’t heard of any major, widespread problems with the Marshals or the Geologic Survey, and air traffic control seems mostly functional, but maybe I just missed the news. They’d just be exceptions that prove the rule, though.

  7. Way back in the last century, when I used to work for a living I also belonged to a number of related professional organizations.

    Alas, retribution for my many sins, I’d often end up a presiding officer of said groups. I learned early on, creating committees and work groups if you pick the busiest folks, groups are most likely to actually accomplish something in a reasonable amount of time.

    The busy guy or gal has leaned to prioritize, delegate, multitask etc.which is why their busy. The ones with all the available time in the world, the non busy ones have such available time ’cause they’re not doing much and aren’t likely to do much.

    Hence when I could I’d choose such and choose the busiest of them to chair the committee or group. When it wasn’t my choice I’d try to stack the deck so others would make such choices.

    Yep group work’s a problem but sometimes you can finagle, as Sarah did, “…throw fits and sulk until … let me pick my own group.”, to get at least some bang for your buck.

  8. Isn’t there a de-motivator meme that says something to the effect of ‘all of us are only as smart as the dumbest of us’?

  9. I have NEVER understood the point of group projects. Except as a leveling method for the better students. After all, teachers hate the kids who don’t conform .

    1. People have to work in teams in real life– even something as simple as having a household!– so it’s good to teach them how to form teams and effectively go towards a goal.

      Notice how school “group projects” don’t actually teach you how to form teams, they don’t teach you how to break a project down into sub-units, they don’t have any accountability for failure to do your part, and generally it’s just a really easy way for the teacher to make one big assignment and only grade the result?

      :grumbles:

      1. “and generally it’s just a really easy way for the teacher to make one big assignment and only grade the result?”

        Life is just one big assignment, and we’re all graded on the result. If you’re lucky, your parents or mentors will help teach you to break it down into doable chunks. If the teacher isn’t doing it, they aren’t teaching.

      2. One of my teachers assigned groups for a project and tried — I guess? — to prevent the “one person does all the work” or “one person doesn’t do anything” problems by saying that if anybody didn’t do their share, it would hurt the whole group’s grade.

        I was… not one of the independent-minded kids who didn’t really care about grades who hang around here. The teacher ended up, with an air of bewilderment, taking me outside the classroom and sitting with me a while to find out why I was crying.

          1. Group punishment (which is what that is) can work, but only in very specific circumstances, ones in which the rest of the group can be relied on to “fix” the problem. Small-unit military is (or was; I don’t know if it’s still a “thing”) an example; the offender will be corrected, as many times as necessary, by his peers, because those peers are punished for what the offender did. To use it on students because the teacher is too lazy or incompetent to do his/her job is not acceptable.

            1. In the military, it was things like a blanket party, or drag someone who didn’t bath into a shower and scrubbed with brushes. It used to be the senior member of the squad would take the offender behind the barracks for a wall to wall counseling session, but that’s pretty much out nowadays. Now about all you’re allowed to do is document the infractions, stick them in the job they can do the least damage in, and deny them reenlistment

              1. Yep, but WRT this subject those things usually happened after group punishment had been “officially” laid on the squad or, rarely, the whole platoon, as peer “encouragement” for the offender to change. (BTW, stiff scrub brushes, with or without a liberal application of sandsoap, was a favorite for dirtbags.)

                The best, and least physically harmful, one I remember was the PFC who insisted on coming into the Quonset hut I was in at MCRD San Diego while in electronics schools, after lights-out, drunk, and waking up everyone banging around. One fine morning he woke up, in his rack, in the middle of the “grinder” (parade field), naked with only a blanket. He seemed to take the lesson to heart… 😉

          2. At least it wasn’t “vote on each other’s grades,” which blows my mind. This was an overall good teacher, but I’m inclined to think she did not think that one through fully.

            1. Or maybe she did. My nephew (currently in high school) a few years ago had a “class” assignment in which the two teams (divided along race lines) had to defend or oppose the actions of a (white) historical figure. They were supposed to do the work as teams, but the children got to vote on who won, and the winning team got treats. Yes, there was more to it, but there is no way that this was anything but sabotage.

              Just because a teacher (or anyone else, for that matter) does something stupid, that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a malicious purpose behind it.

                  1. I have trouble anticipating the weird things people are going to do sometimes, too. I do suspect she got as far as “this will warn people off freeloading to get a good grade” and overlooked apathy and malice, or something.

                    Conversely, I’m not altogether sure it had occurred to me at that point that anybody who would slack off in a group project but also wanted a good grade existed.

                    1. “this will warn people off freeloading to get a good grade” and overlooked apathy and malice, or something. Conversely, I’m not altogether sure it had occurred to me at that point that anybody who would slack off in a group project but also wanted a good grade existed.


                      Other than partner “group” grades, don’t think I’ve ran into a group project where the project grade was everyone’s grade. When 3 or more in the group, grade was group grade + individual grade. Individual grade was a combination of everyone ranking, not only themselves (so slacker could take more credit than entitled) but everyone else (ditto, possible for slacker to pile on someone else). But then there was the other members of the group, doing their own rankings. Truth will come out. This applies whether one person is on the outs, not slacking, but less popular, a true slacker making excuses/taking more credit, or the group covering for someone.

                      Never ran into anyone in a group where someone was apathy or active malice to sabotage group. Melodramatic. Threw tantrums to get their way. Yes to both. But that was a professional working situation. Targeted once. Stepped in between him and another second time. First time, response was “Okay. You do it your way.” (He couldn’t. Not his expertise, or role. I won by default.) Second time. Still not his role. Had been his expertise, he left the company, it was reassigned and completed, he came back, was unhappy with how changes had been done. It was my job to work with the individual on hows, whats, whys. Her job to take it from there with a joint agreed plan. Informed the “brat” that he could yell at me, not her. Surprised the rest of the team too. First time I’d ever raised my voice, in 6 years … which is saying something. My voice is soft by inclination. Not sure they knew I could put out loud volume.

  10. I have NEVER understood the point of group projects. Except as a leveling method for the better students. After all, teachers hate the kids who don’t conform .

  11. The group travel principle is that the group travel speed is determined by the slowest member. Otherwise, the group stretches out and eventually splits up. In similar fashion, the speed of thinking of a group is usually determined by its intellectually slowest member.
    In practical terms, my experience has been that bureaucracies don’t think at all.The thinking has already been done and the answers are in the rule books. Whether the answers even make sense is irrelevant. If the answers aren’t in the rule books, then the default is to ignore the problem until it goes away.

    1. In my travel groups, the group speed is that of the slowest, and the fastest is the designated scout (all adults) who goes ahead, looks for problems, closed galleries, protest marches in progress [I kid you not] and reports back. Sometimes, like this past June, I was the scout, and in two cases, the designated hill climber. “Go up there, take photos, and send them to us. We’re not going past X point.”

  12. Agreed. Bureaucracies suck. And not in a good way like huge auto repair bills and huge AC repair bills and huge medical bills in the same two-week pay period.

    But we’re the smart ones. We play their game and quietly go ahead and set up out own group of creators, producers, and so on and survive when the moochers and looters run out of crayons and paste to eat.

  13. Can’t say it’s actually unneeded, but there’s a lot of room for trimming.

    And then trimming again.

    And again, there’s still a lot left.

    More trimming there, see, that’s not actually needed anymore since the other trimming…..

  14. At its best, the military is an competent autocrat ruled system, not a bureaucracy. The commander makes all the decisions, advised by a professional staff, and his (or her) will executed by competent subordinates. At worst, it’s a bureaucracy managed by incompetents who work at cross-purposes to each other and silo information needed to allow the leaders to make good decisions.

  15. For a long time, and, perhaps still, Red China’s education (note: The Republic of China has its seat on the island of Taiwan. The Reds want us to forget that) focused on group work. IMO, this resulted in hordes of folks who are wedded, nay, addicted to “get-along; go-along”. Rising beyond that is difficult, requiring success at exams and audits and enduring endless scrutiny. Rising beyond the mere nomenklatura requires an “in” and politics.

  16. Say you need a big project done. One person alone can’t do it. You get a group of people together who have the requisite skills, divide up the tasks and TADA! Completed project.

    How hard can that possibly be?

    And yet…

      1. The Reader is very fond of that book. He recalls the time he told a VP the ‘9 pregnant women don’t get you a baby in 1 month story’ when reason didn’t work with his urge to add people to a project. Somehow the Reader kept his job…

  17. Although I recognize the problems everybody is raising here, my experience is very different. Now, I never went to school in a “socialist revolutionary country” or what we’ve had here for many years, but I repeat myself. I had no group school projects. My one experience in such a thing (in a professional management class) showed me the opposite.

    We were given a sheet listing some 30 tasks that were all part of a software development project from requirements gathering to architecture, code, and documentation and everything in between. He asked us to put them in the sequence which they needed to be done. Each of us did that, and then the teacher asked us to share our lists with the others at our table and come up with a list that the group thought best. The teacher then shared the answers and we each scored our individual lists and the group lists. Even though my individual list scored significantly higher than that of anyone else at the table, our group list did even better than that. It was a wonderful object lesson. You may know more than anyone else about everything, but someone always knows more than you about some part of that everything. Stay humble my friends.

    Now that is not to say that I haven’t encountered the classic flaws of bureaucracy especially with Human Resources who have mandatory common-sense-ectomies and humor-ectomies. Also we once had a Configuration Management group that reasoned that their job would be much easier if those darn software developers would quit changing their code so much, and placed every barrier they could think of in our way.

    I’ve been on many highly productive teams. (OK I ended up leading most of them but not all.) Most people only need good leadership. Lay out the tasks that need to get done, parcel them out appropriately–allowing for objections and swapping or sub-teaming as people feel necessary—give the team clear deadlines, all the resources they need to be efficient at what they need to do, and hold them accountable. That is why TPTB absolutely fear Donald Trump. If there is no sheepdog, the sheep will wander aimlessly and destroy everything they come across, but a good sheepdog makes all the difference!

    No, it doesn’t happen naturally, but, if you do it right, it makes everybody productive and happy. When I received the annual quality award for our site of 300 employees, I sidled up to our site manager and quietly said, “You know everybody who’s won our quality awards got it for doing the exact thing his immediate supervisor told him not to do. We ought to think about that.”

    You just can’t have a team with no accountability. That, of course, is the very definition of Civil Service. Trump was about to take his creative axe to that tree when the Evil Empire struck back.

    1. Problem with most teams is “if everyone is accountable, no one is accountable”. Problem is there is one person, and only one person, generally willing to get whatever done. Sometimes one runs into a team where one individual is semi-ostracized through no fault of their own, be it someone inserted into an existing group, or a group of strangers thrown together. Good teams OTOH are where everyone on the team is willing to be accountable, and do whatever it takes to work together to get the project done. School teams, no one is in charge. Where work place teams, generally, someone is in charge.

      I’ve seen it in school (where I was the outsider). Problem with school teams is they aren’t given the team theory to work through working together. The thrown together teams that “just work” but mesh, aren’t given the tools either, but manage to survive (for lack of a better word), thrive, and accomplish their goals.

      I didn’t have the team skills until after BSA Woodbadge. The whole point of Woodbadge is the Art of Team and leadership (used to have cheat card for the professional terms). Scouts get it in what locally the council calls Buckskin – BSA Youth Leadership Training. While both are only 8 days long the coarse work is deliberately setup to stress the individual team to illustrate the different phases of team building. The stresses effects on teams range from subtle (what I experienced as a participant, team meshed) to “OMG what is happening?”, it happened that fast, (which is what I experienced as at team guide with the team I was assigned). (In a way the original experience, in being “easy/subtle” was a determent later.) They did come together when pointing out that is exactly what happens, that was the intent of the method used. Method isn’t intended to be subtle (still there is always that one team …) While participants do drop out (it is voluntary), none of either team I was part, of did. Note, most of the adults taking Woodbadge were, in their professional lives, some type of manager, or owner, or military (be it current or reserves/retired). Which makes for interesting results within teams. It really does help to have the theory of team building even if one isn’t in charge of the team, or like my last job where, should have been a team, to be able to check my own reactions when in my perception things weren’t going so good in the office.

      1. Woodbadge was what came to mind for me also, as an example of teaching people how to work as a team (part of my lived experience, donchaknow).
        Totally agree that school team exercises are NOT like that.
        Most likely the schools of education tell their students that it is a Recommended Pedagogical Method, and use it themselves, but never train the teachers in how to use it properly.
        My money is on the “20 students in 5 teams means only grading 4 papers” scenario.

        1. They tell the teachers that in the FUTURE everyone will work in teams. I had teachers explain this to me, and I explained back that yes, I was told that in the SEVENTIES. And it’s less true now than was then. Complete bewilderment.

      1. Who else would you pick but your fiends for group work? It’s the best way to avoid hurt feelings. Fiends are used to having whips cracked around them.

          1. More talented than you.

            I’ve read/own your works. I highly doubt it.

            More connected than you. More woke than you. More subservient than you. That I’d believe.

            More talented. Never.

              1. There is nothing so common in this world than unrealized talent. Talent is nothing. It grows no crops, it fixes no roofs, it cleans no floors. Results are what matter. I’d rather a slow, but experienced professional do ‘X’ job than a talented but work-shy one.

                Forget about talent. Hard earned skill and experience, which you have, matter. Chin up, miss Sarah. There may always be someone better at this or that. But they can’t be a better you, and they can’t write the stories in your head, either.

        1. MUCH better than I expected to. So far it works better than dictation, or any other methods of input, short of keyboard. And I’d like to point out my handwriting is HORRENDOUS.
          Of course it always makes Rafiel into Ratel. It’s very insulting to a lion shifter. But other than that.

  18. I’m sorry, but you have ALL failed Bureaucracy 101. Which begins with Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy…that the people who serve and grow the bureaucracy get promoted over the people who are focused on performing the mission. The Iron Law may be MORE inexorable than the Laws of Thermodynamics.

    I’ve seen some successes. The counter to the Iron Law is the Band of Brothers Effect – a small team of highly competent people, paid according to their expertise and NOT the number of people they supervise, can work near-miracles. This works. I’ve seen it, been part of it on two occasions. But it’s not easy…and you are always ultimately working for organizations dominated by the Iron Law.

  19. I didn’t have any team projects until my last semester in college. We picked our teams and my team were all friends and top performers. We all went on to graduate school in applied math and then into industry. At work, I was always on teams, but the only statistician. I was on teams for HDTV systems and there I thought I was successful if I could kill a couple of bad ideas each meeting. The only success was a team of two where we designed the tests for audio quality. The other team member was an audiologist who also knew a lot about test design. Teams can work. Many commentators have mentioned the needed aspects: realistic resources and deadlines, freedom for experts to exercise their skills, good management, accountability

    I had a team project in Greek. It was me trying to salvage a passing grade for the other two members. I was at the top of the class and the teacher hoped I could teach them some of the grammer they didn’t know. . . . That can’t be the object of that preposition because it’s not in the accusative case sort of thing. We also had two person teams for another class and that experience was mixed. I got one of my worst grades in my seminary career when my partner insisted that our position was what he believed rather than the assigned debate position.

    1. In nursing school (which I started in my 50’s after 20 years in software development), we had one class with team projects.

      I was fortunate to have one woman on my team who knew what she wanted and Got It Done. Surviving nursing students are organized. We turn in papers early, because Life Happens and we need to do other stuff. This woman was organized enough that she was double majoring and holding a part-time sales job.

      It was ‘what can I do?’ and get out of her way!

      1. Not nursing school (Hail the heroes!) But being an older student, working 1/2 time, taking a full load, I might have been that way. Didn’t fight about the meetings being when I couldn’t/wouldn’t* be there, let me know what my role is, I’ll get it done, early. But don’t then beat me down when my portion of the work is done, on time/early, just because I wasn’t at the meetings I wrote down I could not be at and were non-negotiable.

        Ran into that for the first degree, once. Not same reason, group wanted to meet in a bar, and play pool during meeting. Fine. Problem was I was too young, young enough there was no way I wasn’t getting carded (was carded into my 30’s). I just pulled my license. We didn’t use bars as meeting locations.

        ** Would not drive and park on campus after dark. No way. No how. Period. The (two) days I worked were also no go.

  20. Not being much of a team player myself (so take my observations with a gram or two of salt), I’ve observed that sports teams work, when they do, because individuals each have their own designated expertise and area of responsibility, and they cooperate when there are overlapping tasks. When they don’t cooperate, as in when one player hogs the best shots and fails to pass the ball to someone who has a better chance to score or advance toward the goal, or refuses to assist when another player is being overwhelmed, or when one player simply fails to execute his assigned task, the team has a tendency to turn into a hapless uncoordinated mob.
    If you have organization without the teamwork or unity without organization, group work doesn’t work well.

  21. I’ve got a bit of a positive group work story. My first physics class in high school, I was grouped with two other kids I would not have deemed as smart. And yet, when the entire point of the lesson was that it was a trick question, the trap of which was working too hard… one of them came up with the obvious and simple solution. Always being the smart kid, it taught me some humility, and that good ideas can come from everyone. Stayed with them the rest of the semester. I was definitely the smart one of the group, but I still remember that day, for giving my ego a much needed deflation and puncture.

    Otherwise, I didn’t have much group work that I remember much. Possibly because I never got group work in other classes I stood out at. So I was either roughly equal to my partners (whether by choice or assignment) or I was the leech. Which probably happened at least once in a bad subject.

    1. I know I was the leech in one group assignment. The instructor had said that “if one of your group isn’t pulling his weight, come talk to me”, so when the group leader went up to him when the assignment was due, and said “I need to talk to you”, I knew what was up.
      Well, the instructor in the prerequisite class was incompetent (all lecture about automata and no assignments in the programming language I was supposed to have been learning), so while I “passed” the class, I didn’t know what I was doing. But I thought I could have made it up with self-study, and didn’t.

  22. BTW, some things require group work.

    Now this one might resemble Basil Fawlty not talking about the War; but:

    A. XX + XY to make a baby,

    B. XY + XY + XY + XY + XY + XY + XY + XY + XY + XY + XY + XY to make a Monkey Pox “epidemic.

    And so on.

    My apologies if the biology is too complicated.

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