What I learnt from being in 3 project groups at once
In my first semester of my fourth year in university, I took 4 modules, among which 3 had group projects. Although group projects were not a stranger to me, I found my experience in these 3 groups to be very different. Each gave me a different flavour of group dynamics and allowed me to learn more about myself.
This reflection was a very timely one as I had just taken the module MNO2705: Leadership and Decision Making under Uncertainty. From this module, I learnt about individual and group cognitive biases, how people work in teams, and culture. It was quite enlightening to see concepts I have learnt being applied in my real-life academic journey.
Here are my experiences and insights gained from each group:
Group 1: Chaotic, beautiful mess
The first group was mostly made up of loud and extroverted “alphas”. During meetings, many voices spoke at once. People constantly talked over one another and no one was really listening to anyone. As a result, all our meetings were unproductive and inconclusive. We could meet for 1 hour just to end up splitting up the work to be done without discussing any key decisions. I myself was lost at many junctions. (Thinking back, I was silly to cancel one of my lunch plans just to attend the group meeting.) The final presentation script was almost incoherent and incohesive because everyone was only listening to their own selves and “obsessed” with their pointers. (Thank god for last minute rehearsals!) In retrospect, if we had set agendas for meetings and had a facilitator to ensure that the agendas were kept to, meetings would have utilised everyone’s time better. Eventually and surprisingly, I think our group project turned out satisfactory because every member understood the concepts and applied them appropriately. In short, they pulled their weight.
In this group, I became closed off. Because I couldn’t be sure if my opinions would be heard in meetings. Most members were stuck in their own heads and the “chaos” made me want to run away sometimes. I am not sure if this is how I would react in the future when I am placed in a similar group dynamic in the workplace, we’ll see.
Group 2: Cold and bittersweet
The second group was a stark contrast with the first. Most members were passive. Long and unsettling silence was a common recurrence during meetings, and I had to prompt for responses by calling each members’ names one by one. One member even got by entire meetings without barely speaking a sentence, which baffles me. Meetings ended up longer than necessary and towards the later half of the semester, I was mentally drained from each session. Although our project milestones did quite well in terms of marks, I felt that the journey was a struggle for the wrong reasons. It doesn’t sit right with me how students can be so laid back for project meetings when we should all care for our academics. On the bright side, as I took the initiative to plan the team’s progress and internal deadlines, I experienced the true satisfaction of being able to meet original submission deadlines without feeling overwhelmed, thanks to consistent work.
On the other hand, one specific incident was a conflict I had with a group member. Typically, we did our own parts and then looked through each others’ parts and gave comments to work on. When I raised my point regarding a change that the group member should make for a better outcome, they refused to do so and justified that they had spent a lot of time and effort on their current work already. Thanks to MNO2705, I was able to identify this behaviour as a result of sunk cost fallacy and status quo bias. Despite this knowledge, my emotional response was anger and frustration. Luckily, I suppressed those emotions enough to say “okay, let’s move on then”. Eventually, they kept their original work.
Upon reflection, what I realised about myself is the possibility that I may not always act according to my self-perception in situations. When faced with a conflict like the incident mentioned, I did not try to “communicate with the other party to reach common ground”, neither did I try to “let the other party understand the situation better”. I did none of those expected actions. I believe I am an assertive person, but I was not. Instead, I became a yes-woman and chose peace and harmony as my immediate response. Knowing that I may not always act as I say or thought I would was a truly terrifying realisation. Perhaps it was the context? After all, that was merely a group project and after 13 weeks, we won’t see each other again and I don’t want any hard feelings. Maybe I am actually afraid of conflicts and choose to take the easy way out by avoiding them? Maybe when there is someone more strong-headed than me, I give in and become the “beta”? Maybe this, maybe that, I don’t know. I had extrapolated this thought to my future interviews, when I am asked situational questions focused on leadership and decision making. Will I say A, but end up falling short and do B instead? It’s quite a scary thought, but also one to keep me grounded and more accountable towards myself.
Group 3: Individually capable, collectively performing
The third group was like middle ground of the first 2, but so much more. Every member was decently responsible for their allocated work and sufficiently responsive during meetings. They were all capable in delivering their work. Although we did our parts individually with some level of cooperation between pairs or triples, we paid attention to maintaining consistency across everyone’s work, which reflects team synergy. I was very proud of our final product! As the project requirements were very extensive, I am so glad for the couple of proactive group members who would volunteer to take up different parts whenever it was time to split up the work for the next milestone.
In this group, there was a prominent group leader who facilitated meetings and oversaw the team’s progress. They were the one who reviewed everyone’s status and planned what to do by the next meeting. Under such dynamics, I became a supportive team member by sharing my opinions during meetings and clarifying my doubts to prevent miscommunication and ensure everyone was on the same page. Having an active group leader didn’t mean that I could only be a (silent) follower or passive member. With the right attitude, everyone would have their own ways of value adding to the group project for sure.
From my experiences in these 3 groups, I learnt that I am not just 1 type of team member. I fit into the group by adapting to the current roles taken (naturally or not) by my other groupmates. If there is no one leading the team, I will step up to be the leader. If there is already an enthusiastic and responsible leader in place, I will become a supportive team member. Whichever role one may be, I think that so long as one cares enough for the group project and is prepared to put in the work needed, they would be able to contribute and bring value in their own way.
Thank you for reading!