All Around the World: Rethinking Group Work

Tuesday, September 27, 2016 - 8:41pm

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Illustration by Emilie Farrugia

 

Coming into college, it’s safe to assume you’ll have a group assignment or two. They can go in many directions: some nice, others painful. In my experience, everyone just wants to get the work done as quickly as possible — with as few conflicts as possible. More motivated members pick up the slack for the less motivated ones, and so the vicious cycle of disdain toward group projects begins. Last year when an assignment in one of my classes called for pair work, we would switch partners throughout the semester to get to know all the people in the class. The assignments were short and I’d meet with my partner for an hour or so to get the job done, refraining from talk of our personal lives, where we were from or even what brought us to the University of Michigan.  

During the second rotation, my partner took the time to ask me how my day was, which was weird. I was used to getting straight to business, not dabbling in something as wishy-washy as the quality of my day. Why would we waste time on this? It wasn’t going to change anything and would only detract from the time we had to complete the assignment. But as we asked each other questions, delving into one another’s lives, the conversation became more natural and enjoyable. Suddenly, 30 minutes had gone by and I’d made a connection with someone who is still my friend today. In taking the time to learn about this person’s life, I found that he was an international student here and had lived in many different countries before coming to the University of Michigan. I remember thinking how cool that was, that someone would choose to come all the way to Michigan out of all the universities in the world to choose from.

Fast forward to winter semester of last year. As part of my involvement in the Center for Positive Organizations — a research center in the Ross School of Business — I was taking a class called The Foundations of Positive Organizational Scholarship. We examined the research behind positive leadership and positive business, learning that everyone you interact with has a story that is unique to them. According to research, there’s strong evidence to support that connecting with people can elevate your mood, build resilience, increase creativity and even improve your health. That’s amazing to me. By talking to others, and listening to their stories, we can feel better about ourselves in multiple ways.

The business program at the University is extremely group-oriented. I have group projects for almost all of my classes, and I’m constantly meeting different people; however, oftentimes we aren’t really talking to one another. When I met with my partner for The Foundations of Positive Organizational Scholarship, I at first didn’t take the time to learn about who he was, what his purpose was in the Business School or what made him tick. I cared about what he brought to the table and how he would help me get the A I so badly wanted.

Taking a step back, I realize how much healthier and productive we are when we get to know one another and indulge in each other’s stories. After learning about positive organizational research, my eyes were opened to this unique background people are constantly carrying around on their shoulders. I thought about the myriad types of students we have here on campus and how they have such different life experiences than mine. We have in-staters, out-of-staters, first-generation students, fourth-generation students, transfer students, graduate students and people from all over the world here in one place, with so many different stories and purposes.

With recruitment for summer internships in full swing, classes, homework and extracurriculars, I know I’m not alone in forgetting about self-care. However, it only takes a few minutes to chat with someone in the Starbucks line, or reach out to an old friend you haven’t spoken with, or even call your grandmother to say hello. After learning about the type of impact these connections with others can have on the mind and body, there’s no reason not to take a chance and learn something new about someone each day.