Students, Stop Resenting Your University Group Projects

4 ways group work in school can prepare you for the ‘real world’

Photo: Brooke Cagle/Unsplash

Group work isn’t for everyone. Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you it comes down to your team.

In university, there are standard team archetypes we’re all familiar with. You’ve got the lazy one, the no-show, the procrastinator, the one who’s always too busy to meet, the one who didn’t read the assignment, and, of course, the more-often-than-not-slightly-controlling group leader.

In university, I was that controlling group leader. For better or worse, I habitually had topics chosen, a group chat made, and a complete list of fonts downloaded and installed for the PowerPoint all before our professor could wrap up class.

While most of the world continues adjusting to a new normal, we’re still demonstrating the value of teamwork. Besides realizing my ability to take on an entire five-member workload in one night, working as a team in university has taught me a lot.

When you think about it, group work is kind-of life work.

Here are 4 reasons how working together can benefit you long-term:

1. When done correctly, it translates directly to the workplace.

I studied at the University of Guelph-Humber in Toronto. As an institution combining both practical and theoretical learning into its curriculum, students aren’t limited to just writing group essays or whipping together Prezis on the history of film noir.

Not going to lie, I have had to do group projects on both of those. But — I’ve also had many other opportunities to create exciting mock projects as a team:

  • Launching a creative self-care campaign
  • Collaborating on a marketing plan for the Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Pitching a sustainable footwear design to Under Armour
  • Hosting a press conference
  • Organizing and executing not one, but two large-scale events — all in four years

Are you telling me that’s not real-world experience?

2. It helps you find your working style.

Being a student is formative. It’s a chance to kick those dreaded highschool habits and whip new ones into shape.

If you spent most of your high school years slacking off and still managed to get good grades, chances are your first year of college felt like a slap in the face. I feel you.

Granted, I was lucky enough to be one of those concerningly eager students who actually enjoyed school as a kid.

But if creating skits on Mesopotamia or designing biology posters on the inner-workings of the circulatory system weren’t your jam, then you likely weren’t aware of your working style yet. University group work is an opportunity to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.

Despise late-night phone calls? Do you focus better before noon? Prefer Slack or Facebook Messenger? How about Google Drive over Trello? College is the chance to make mistakes and figure out how you like to organize your life for success.

3. You learn to negotiate the hard way.

As someone who falls under the more-often-than-not-slightly-controlling category, working in groups has taught me the art of negotiation and compromise.

Countless studies have shown that the most engaged workers feel they have sufficient opportunity to share their views, collaborate, and bond with their team.

Imagine choosing a Netflix Party movie with friends and NOT having a say. That’s how it feels to have your ideas stomped on, and group work is no different.

4. It exposes you to new ideas.

The point of working together is to enhance learning. No matter what field you end up in, at some point you’ll likely be pulled into a brainstorming session.

Just like hashing out ideas for your college projects, these engagements allow for new perspectives, and a chance to integrate fresh ideas into your beliefs.

It’s easy to get stuck in our ways, but expanding your horizons through group work helps diversify you, making you more desirable to employers.

So students, stop dissing your group projects.

As my time as an undergraduate student comes to a close, I’m increasingly reminded of the benefits of group work. In my quest for the perfect post-grad job, the skills I’ve learned in the classroom have directly affected my career trajectory.

Group work in university offers many benefits:

  • Exposure to real-world experiences
  • The ability to hone and nurture my working style
  • A chance to practice negotiation and compromise in a low-stakes environment
  • Opportunities to collaborate ideas and hear new perspectives

Chances are you’ve been in a nightmare group project scenario. You know, the one where you’re slapping the PowerPoint together ten minutes before you present. We’ve all done it at some point, but there are lessons in every failure.

We live in a human-centric and deeply social world. Having soft skills and emotional intelligence to juggle careless group members, stale ideas, and the inevitable head-butting of working together can put you on a path that makes you unstoppable.

So students, don’t bash the group project just yet; it might land you the career of your dreams.

Take it from me.

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Fond of long hikes and reusable produce bags. Vancouver and Toronto, but never in between. | @alenablanes

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