When I went through my undergraduate program almost 20 years ago, most of my grades depended on my individual effort. Tests were individual assessments, homework and classwork was individualized, attendance was certainly individual, and most of the projects we had were individual. I thrived in that environment and made the grades to show it. But, a lot of my master’s degree program has focused on team and group projects, and I hear more examples out of my kids where they’re doing the same in elementary, middle, and high school. Why the change in trend and how should we embrace this?
Traditionally, public school has been a product of the Industrial Age. Factories needed trained, compliant workers to do their part in the assembly-line model. No creativity, ingenuity, or questioning of the status quo needed – where school is thought of as a place to learn and be educated, it turned into the assembly line for producing workers. As you think about each item that comes off the assembly line, the one in front of it looks exactly like the one behind it, which is exactly the outcome that you want. The purpose of the education system was to do the same thing – produce the same type of worker so that when they get to the factory the quality and function of each one is the same as those beside them. So, the testing and evaluation done on the student (product) at each grade (step) in school (the assembly line) is to ensure conformity and fit to the minimum acceptable standards.
That type of work is disappearing from North America. We are in the twilight of the Industrial Age and in the heyday of the Information Age. Individuals are needed today for their individuality and contribution. The static, mechanistic work environment of the factory simply does not exist today. Today’s workers are knowledge workers. They need to be able to look at a variety of situations, working with any number of individuals locally or across the planet, and derive solutions, make improvements, or create entirely new products based on team collaboration. The individual alone sees things through their own eyes, where working within the team opens up many points of view. Alone, or individually, the sum of each person’s contributions and efforts on a team will be less than their collective efforts combined. Using corporate lingo, this is synergy in action.
So, back to group work or individual work. I used to cringe when I thought about working in a group. I felt like if I could control the process/project from beginning to end then I alone was responsible for the outcome. In some respects, I still feel that way. But, as I’ve moved into management, I have seen the power of my team working together and the power of working in concert with my peer management team. The things that we have been able to accomplish when everyone pulls in the same direction towards a common goal have been astounding. In tomorrow’s work force, even the move towards more interaction over social media will require greater levels of group work and coordination. The best online businesses today leverage their associates, customers, and partners into a dynamic community that, together, makes a difference in the life of the business.
So, when your child comes home with a group project, realize that they need those skills now more than ever before. There will be times when their team members don’t pull their weight, and that is also OK. If your child can learn at an early age how to interact with teams, and how to work through team dynamics and drama, then they will be the ones that will thrive in tomorrow’s economy.