Hell Hath No Fury Like a Perfectionist in a Group Project

I have trust issues.  More specifically, I have trust issues when it comes to group projects.

You see, the trouble with group projects is that in my formative years, everyone in the group got the same grade regardless of the amount of work they had put in.  I learned very quickly that if I let most of my classmates half-ass our posterboards and say “I don’t care” the whole time, the end result would be a posterboard I was embarrassed to stand in front of while we presented to the class.

So I took over.  The way 5th grade me saw it, they didn’t want to do the work, and I didn’t want them to do the work, so everyone was happier if I just made everything just the way I wanted it.

But then high school came, and even though I still ended up taking over most of my group projects, I had a new weapon at my disposal: evaluations.  Secondary education, apparently, was not quite so idealistic in its assumptions of how children would divide the labor.  These new teachers knew perfectly well that the nerds and perfectionists (and believe me, I stand proudly at the intersection of that Nerdy Perfectionist Venn Diagram) would end up doing all the work if the slackers had no carrot or stick to move them along.  Suddenly I had power; instead of being the group workhorse or overachiever, I was the taskmaster.  With a gleam in my eye that was the precursor to my Soul Burning Glare, I quietly but significantly jotted down notes of who was and was not working during group meetings.

I was usually a benevolent dictator, or at least I tried to be.  After all, I only wanted what the rest of the group wanted: to get a good grade.  But it was often difficult not to wish that I could just do the whole thing myself and only have to worry about my own time management.

Of course, group projects have taught me some valuable skills, though probably not the teamwork and collaboration my teachers hoped I would get out of them.  More accurately, I learned that most of the other kids actually didn’t mind pitching in but were afraid to try to wrest control from me.  (To be fair, I probably wouldn’t have responded well to an outright coup.)  I learned to delegate, to reluctantly relinquish little bits of the project, and to pretend to be okay with relying on other people.  And I found allies in unexpected places.

Sophomore year of high school, we had to draw a map of the Odyssey, including quotes from the book.  My group sat around on the floor of the hallway, staring at the markers and the terrifying expanse of blank butcher paper in the center of our circle.  They all claimed not to have a mental picture of Odysseus’ journey.  Conscious by then of my domineering tendencies, I had been trying to bite my tongue, but at that I pulled out a pencil and started sketching the islands as I had envisioned them the whole time we’d been reading.  After I placed the islands, my group members followed behind with the markers to color them in and add some scenery.  That night I went home and compiled a list of short quotes we could write next to each island and showed up to the next class ready to write and draw, feeling as though I hadn’t done much.  At the end of that meeting, as we divvied up the remaining labor for the weekend, I volunteered to take the poster home and finish it.

“I think,” a boy named Will said, looking at the printed list of quotations in my eager hands, “that since Grace has done pretty much everything so far, she shouldn’t have to do anything else.”  A murmur of agreement ran through the group, and I blushed down at the poster.  He didn’t say it meanly, as though he thought I had steamrolled all over everybody.  He simply acknowledged my work and kindly pointed out that they could take it from there.  It was a nice moment.

But then I had to keep six people on task for an entire semester-long government project senior year, and my exasperation with group projects was cemented.

I understand that they have their place.  Really, I do.  I’ve learned from having to deal work with other students and communicate with them.  But college is so busy already that I would rather not have to track down five other people and twenty disparate pieces of the project just so we can pass the class.

As for the basic argument that we’ll need to work in groups in our careers?  Just one more reason I want to be a happily introverted writer tucked away in my garret.

2 thoughts on “Hell Hath No Fury Like a Perfectionist in a Group Project

  1. Peter April 2, 2015 / 6:39 pm

    You know, this is the first blog post I’ve actually read by you. I’m going to have to start reading all of them when they show up on my Tumblr.

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