Group Projects Are A Fraud

My husband and I absolutely love the lessons our kids learn from playing team sports. They learn about hard work, discipline, obedience, precision, practice, friendship, social skills, character, health, endurance, and of course, teamwork. Playing on a good team prepares kids for future careers and success because success in the real world depends on teamwork. Success at home also depends on teamwork.

Recently, I was at my daughter’s basketball game, and I was expressing my adoration for team sports and the valuable lessons learned. The mom sitting next to me added in, “Yes, teamwork is so critical for success! In school they are really emphasizing learning teamwork by having the students do group assignments.” My stomach churned a bit when she said “group assignments”. Grade school memories of “group projects” came flooding into my mind.

Let’s be real here. I dreaded each and every group project I was involved with. It’s not because I wasn’t academic. And it wasn’t because I didn’t know how to work. And it wasn’t because I wasn’t a good team player on successful teams. It was because “group projects” were the polar opposite of what I had experienced elsewhere in life.

Group projects are a fraud
In group projects, only one or two people actually do the work.

The problem I had was what group projects ended up being, despite the good intentions of the teacher. In group projects, the teacher basically assigns you into groups and the one or two people who actually care about their grades do all the work. And that person was always me. It was an unfair and completely frustrating experience. It didn’t work or accomplish anything good. And if I ever complained, the teacher would scold me for not being a “team player” and proceed to tell me how I would never succeed in the “real world” with such a lousy attitude.

Don’t get me wrong. I commend the schools for recognizing the importance of teamwork. The problem is that the people promoting these “group projects” haven’t actually looked at how real teams work. The teamwork found on sports teams and the teamwork found in the real world have distinct differences from the group projects thrust on children in public schools. True teamwork is what I want my kids to learn and it is the only thing that really works. True teamwork is effective in school, work, home, and sports. True teamwork actually works, as opposed to its counterfeit: group projects.

True Teamwork

One specific chore

There are five unique attributes to sports teams that actually relate much better to the teamwork found in the real world:

  1. You must try out for the team.
  2. Every team has a coach to report to who wields power and is not a peer or teammate.
  3. You have distinct positions and responsibilities you are expected to perform.
  4. You must stay in your own lane.
  5. It is impossible to win a game without the help of your team.

#1: Trying Out For The Team

Unlike “group projects” where you are just lumped together randomly with peers, in sports you have to try out for a team. You are selected based off of your reputation and the skills you bring to the table and your commitment to be there for practice and games. The coach decides he wants you to be on the team because you will be an asset. This is much more similar to the real-world scenario where you must apply for jobs, provide referrals, a resume, and express commitment to show up to work each day on time. The boss decides to make you part of his team because he thinks you will be an asset to move his company forward and because he thinks he can rely on you.

#2: The Coach

Group projects rarely have a person in charge who wields power and has experience. You are all peers at the same level. If you were to give low marks to a peer, there would be social pressures and problems. The teacher is really the only one who can play the position of coach in a classroom. The teacher is supposed to be the team leader, but for group projects the teacher steps back from that job leaving no suitable replacement. The group project has no real leader with real power.

In contrast, in team sports, there is always a coach. The coach holds tryouts, assigns positions, dictates practices, decides who plays and who sits, decides on a game plan, gives out awards, picks the MVP, benches players who are out of line, and kicks players off the team who don’t show up. Even on teams where there are more than one coach, there is always a head coach who makes the final decision.

A coach has experience and is different from the players on the field. This relates much more to the real world where every business and every project has a boss. The boss hires and fires, tells you when to show up, assigns responsibilities, hands our pay checks, gives raises and promotions, and has the final say. A boss is not a coworker or peer. A boss is the coach running his team and calling the shots. It is his or her job to figure out how to best utilize the individual talents of the team.

#3: Position Played

In group projects, no specific assignments are given and individual grades are not given because the teacher doesn’t know who did what. You are lumped into a group. In contrast, on team sports you actually work together by focusing on your separate position or responsibility. You know exactly what is expected of you, and what responsibilities your assigned position entails.

For example, in football there are intricately designed plays. Different players in different positions have exact roles to carry out. If everyone focuses and does their part, the play has a chance of succeeding. On the other hand, if there is one person confused, not paying attention, or not doing their part, the entire play fails. Teamwork depends on the players knowing very clearly what their position is and focusing on their individual and unique job. Furthermore, at the end of the play, it is very clear to the coach who did their part and who dropped the ball. Because there are specific assignments, there is accountability.

Even if a play isn’t successful and the team fails, individuals will be held accountable for their part. If they were the reason the team failed, then often they’ll get benched.

This is exactly how teamwork in the business world works. For example, my husband worked for many years as a reality TV editor. The team working to produce a TV episode includes various positions: you have writers, executives, directors, field producers, producers, editors, music and sound people, accounting departments, cast, camera crew, etc. The success of the final product depends on everyone focusing on their distinct roles. Everyone receives credit at the end of the episode for what part they played in the show. If someone drops the ball, it is clear who dropped the ball and there are very real consequences. Future work depends on you doing your part on the team.

#4: Stay In Your Lane

Group projects differ from teamwork
Staying in your lane makes the race fair, but it also accomplishes other things.

In the group project for school, the idea was for everyone to take part in everything: group participation and shared responsibility. But because it lacked individual responsibility, in reality one or two kids did all the work. This would never fly in team sports. In team sports, it is impossible for one person to win the game. The quarterback could never play quarterback, lineman, and wide receiver at the same time. In soccer, imagine the results if the goalie were to try to play goalie, coach, and forward all at the same time. The team would fail. Instead, you are required to focus on your own job.

My husband was recently an assistant coach on my son’s football team. This is an excellent example because no one on the team was particularly talented, but despite that fact, this particular team made it to the championship game. Teamwork was the key to their success.

However, as they were working that season, my husband observed that almost every time a play would fail it would not be because of incompetence, but instead because a team member would notice someone else wasn’t “doing a good job” and they would leave their own post and run over and try to “help their teammate” with their job. This would result in that team member’s post being left completely open and vulnerable and would almost always result in the play failing.

Group projects don't work on football teams
Coach Tim taught the boys the importance of individual assignments.

Believe it or not, this mindset of “helping someone else do their job” caused more failed plays than anything else. The head coach would turn red in the face and start yelling at the boys, “Do YOUR job!” It kind of turned into a team motto. By the end of the season, the team was running like a well-oiled machine simply because the boys learned to stay focused on their own responsibilities on the team.

In short, if you are on a team and you start worrying about someone else’s job, you inevitably end up neglecting your own job and are thus worse than someone who is doing a less than stellar job in their own position. In business, you will certainly step on toes if you try to take over someone else’s job and responsibilities. For example, you won’t catch the person in charge of public relations trying to take over the accounting department. You are expected to stay in your own lane and focus only on your individual job assignment.

#5: Winning As A Team

Once again, teamwork is not about shared responsibility; it is about everyone focusing on individual responsibility in order to achieve a common goal or dream that could never be accomplished by one person alone.

Teamwork at Home

Group projects don't work at home
Teamwork starts at home.

So how does real teamwork relate to homes and families?

First off, my husband and I are a team. We work together towards common goals. However, like a real team, we divide up responsibilities. If we don’t do that, some things don’t get done and it is unclear who should do what. In our specific family situation, we agreed from the get-go that my husband would be 100% in charge of providing food and shelter for the family and keeping track of the family finances. I, on the other hand, was in charge of shopping, cooking, running the home, and teaching the children.

Other families in different situations would have to divide this up differently, but this is how we did it. Most fights in our marriage have revolved around one of us interfering with the other’s responsibilities (or sometimes just PMS). “Stay in your lane and focus on your job” has been a frequent resolution to disagreements.

In the bigger picture, our family works very much like a team. I have to admit, however, that I have tried repeatedly in the past to do “group assignments” like the teachers in school do. Let me assure you of this: It NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER works. It never works. Except sometimes—NOPE. Not even sometimes. Plain and simple.

If I see that the backyard is an almighty disaster, and I put all the kids out there and say, “You guys all clean this up if you want to come in the house,” based off of classroom “group assignments” you can accurately predict what happens next. The one child who wants to get it over with starts cleaning, while the rest of them goof off.

The same thing happens if there is a time-consuming chore like dishes to be done and I assign it to two people but I don’t give individual assignments. I’ll say something like, “Okay, I’m assigning both of you to the dishes. Work together and get it done.” It may work out the first day, and even the second day. However, within a short period of time, I always find myself regretting the decision as the fights break out about one person not “doing their share”.

Another example: if I say, “Hey kids, the house is messy. Let’s clean it together,” I end up nagging, yelling, and getting upset at the kids, and in the end I just clean everything myself.

The great thing is, I don’t make these mistakes anymore. I don’t do group projects.

Divide And Conquer

Group projects don't divide up work properly
Divide and conquer. This applies to teamwork, too.

I know the term “divide and conquer” does not really refer to what I’m about to say, but the phrase helps me remember how to go about difficult tasks. When there is a large project that needs to be done, if I want to succeed, I must divide up the responsibility.

So instead of “group assignments”, here’s what works: let’s take the messy backyard example. I look around the backyard and start dividing up what needs to be done and then I make specific assignments. “Caleb, you are in charge of picking up all the trash. Trixie, you are in charge of sweeping the porch. Ruby, you are in charge of collecting toys. Superstar, you are in charge of putting bikes in the garage. Falcon, you are in charge of collecting up any shoes or clothing. Tia, you are in charge of piling wood and bricks. You guys can come in for lunch as soon as you are finished.” And guess what? The yard will be sparkly clean in ten minutes or less. Everyone works. This is teamwork, and it is amazing.

Similarly, if I want two people to work together on doing the dishes, the same rule applies. I say, “Trixie you are in charge of loading the dishes. Ruby you are in charge of drying and putting away the dishes.” There’s no confusion, and there are rarely any fights.

I’ve noticed that my kids have picked up on how effective this is. When they are delegated babysitting power, they will say, “We get to watch a movie, but first we need to clean up and get ready for bed. Let’s do it fast!” Then the babysitter will start dishing out specific assignments. Everyone runs and gets their assignments done. This is teamwork, and it is absolutely inspiring to watch.

When Does Teamwork Become A Necessity?

Teamwork is necessary when there is a project or goal too big for one person to accomplish by themselves. When my husband and I had only two kids, I could get away with trying to run the home all by myself. However, as our family has grown, there is now more work to be done than could possibly be done by one human being, and I quickly had to recognize that. In fact, when my third child was born, I started going completely crazy. I was SO overwhelmed. I kept telling my husband, “I can’t do this! I’m exhausted and the house looks like I haven’t lifted a finger!”

Then came the epiphany: it wasn’t my job to do all the work. My kids should take responsibility, too. However, my oldest was only two years old at the time. To my amazement, I soon discovered she was actually quite capable of cleaning. I know I’m not the only parent who was running a home single-handedly and then discovered having three children is overwhelming. But if you understand and implement real teamwork in your family and start looking at yourself as “the coach”, you can manage three kids just as easily as you could manage a family of ten. Because a large family forces a parent to rely on teamwork (either that or you end up in a mental institution), larger families tend to teach the concept of teamwork to their children, and it is an advantage to those children as they move into the “real world”. The principles don’t change.

Group projects end with animosity, not friendship
If we want to succeed, we have to rely on teamwork.

In our family, if we want to succeed, we have to rely on teamwork. We don’t have a choice. We frequently tell our kids, “Everyone has to do their part, or this house doesn’t work.” Trixie and Ruby have to get the dishes done. Caleb has to keep the kitchen sanitary. Blackstone keeps the living room free of clothing, toys, and garbage. Tia tends to the chickens and does everyone’s laundry. Superstar keeps the bathrooms sanitary. I make meals and do the shopping and delegate chores. Sassy keeps the dining room clean and orderly. Falcon sweeps floors and takes out the garbage. Everyone has a bedroom to care for. The older kids all have a younger “buddy” to mentor. On the weekends there are specific yard care assignments. Everyone has an essential part to play here at home.

It seems counterintuitive, but giving everyone specific assignments and then relying on them to accomplish those assignments actually gives kids a sense of purpose and belonging. They start to take pride in their contributions to the home. They feel necessary. Because they are.

Coach Mom And Dad

My husband and I are the coaches of the team. We have a great points system to reward those who demonstrate consistent hard work. We inspect everyone’s work. There are also consequences in place for not contributing. For example, in the morning I make a lovely breakfast, but only kids with clean bedrooms can sit down and enjoy the meal. As soon as they are done, they are welcome to join us. Furthermore, no child can participate in other events if their basic chores are not done. My husband and I are the coaches and we call the shots, and we are in charge of teaching the kids to do their job correctly.

We use “real” teamwork in our home is because we want our children to have healthy work relationships. In contrast, if we do “group projects”, it teaches our kids unhealthy and unbalanced relationships—something we certainly don’t want for them. Group projects teach codependence. Some of the kids in the family will end up being self-sacrificing doormats and martyrs, doing things for others that others should be doing for themselves, not knowing when to say “no”.

Other of our kids will trick the system and leave home never having learned to work and take responsibility. They will forever be looking for a way to get out of work and a way to “beat the system”. They will have a hard time completing college because once it gets “boring” they will want to drop out or change majors. They will forever be scared of work looking for an easy way out. I’ve seen this happen, and I’ve vowed that every child will leave my home unafraid of work. They will understand their proper relationship with others in a work situation. Real teamwork teaches healthy relationships.

See “Chore Time Strategies: Zone Defense Or Man-To-Man” for more ideas on how to set up your home for teamwork.

Conclusion

Many people think teamwork and group projects are the same thing. In reality, group projects are actually the antithesis of how teams accomplish great things. When we talk about teamwork in the family, never confuse teamwork with group projects. Group projects have never worked at school, they certainly don’t work at home, they are never implemented on sports team, and they fail in the real world. Group projects give kids the wrong message about who they are and what is expected. Teamwork, on the other hand, is essential for a healthy home life, is essential for a successful sports team, and knowing how to be a real team player will lead to success in the real world.

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What about you? Do you agree? Are group projects and teamwork the same thing? Leave a comment below.

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Hannah Judd

Hannah Judd

Hannah is the co-creator of Moneypants and is the mother of 13 amazing kids.

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