You find all sorts of problems in group work, so I offer here group presentation tips to help you survive this business school rite of passage.
Anyone who has participated in even one group project in college knows that group presentations can challenge you in all sorts of ways.
Perhaps you believe these challenges are external to you? Others cause problems, right? Because surely you must not be contributing to the challenges facing your group?
Let’s examine, understand, and overcome these challenges before they get out-of-hand.
Why We Have Problems with Group Presentations . . .
The first major reason is the unpredictability of your situation. One key characteristic of your group presentation is its rampant unpredictability. The project appears submerged in ambiguity that we seem powerless to affect.
And you have the messiness of all those other people to worry about.
We all prefer to control our own destinies. Most all of us want to be judged on our own work. We like to work alone. Our labors are important to us. We take pride in our work.
This is very much the craftsman’s view.
But with group work, the waters muddy. It becomes difficult to identify who is doing what, and consequently, we worry about who will get the credit.
We worry if there will even be any credit to distribute if our presentation collapses under the burden of multiple minds and differing opinions and people who seem not to care.
We worry that our contribution will be overlooked. We worry that someone else will take credit for our work and we’ll be left with the crumbs.
We see ourselves submerged, and as we sink into a kind of group ethos, our individual identity is threatened.
How will the boss, the professor, or anyone else, know what we do? How will they know our contribution?
With every additional person, the unknown variables multiply. Worse, what if we get saddled with a reputation for poor work because someone else screwed up?
The second major reason for group failure is the ordeal of time management and scheduling. Six different students, each with differing class schedules and who often are working part-time, must somehow work together.
Moreover, you may be several classes that require group projects. And you are faced with the pathology of one or two team members who “don’t have time for this.”
So the difficulties mentioned here multiply.
Why the Group Presentation? It’s a Complex World
The group presentation is not an easy task. It can be downright painful. Infuriating.
It can turn student-against-student faster than anything else in college outside of Greek rush.
So why do your professors require them? Why do all of your B-school professors seem determined to put you through this misery?
You’ve probably heard the spurious reasons. One pervasive student myth is that professors assign group work so they can cut their own grading work load.
The reasoning goes something like this: it is much easier for a professor to grade six presentations or papers than to grade 30 individual papers.
This myth is so pervasive that it has become conventional wisdom among students. There are three big problems with this, and consider them supplementary group presentation tips.
Group Presentation Tips to Survive and Thrive
First, by definition, individual work is not group work. If group work is an essential part of the workplace experience, then individual papers or other assignments do not contribute to the learning experience that is specifically designed to prepare you for the workplace.
Second, professors often are required to assign some form of group work in their courses. The prevailing pedagogy in most business schools advocates the group work experience as essential to prepare students for the 21st Century workplace.
Frankly, this is the way it should be.
Third, this myth assumes that professors enjoy watching students stumble their way through awkward presentations, poorly prepared and half-heartedly delivered.
While you, as a student, prepare for only one or two presentations, the professor oftentimes watches 25 presentations or more during a semester and then evaluates them.
This can be an unpleasant experience.
Embrace Group Work in a Complex World
The proverbial bottom line that we all talk about in business school is this: You do “group work” because it is essential to the 21st Century business world. In fact, corporate recruiters list it as the second-most-desired skill in the job candidates they consider.
So as your #1 group presentation tip, why not embrace the group presentation as a necessary component of your school experience?
From a practical standpoint, we cannot produce major products by ourselves, because the days of the business generalist are all dead in corporate America. Specialization rules the business workplace, and the manipulation of knowledge is ascendant.
You will become one of these knowledge-workers upon graduation.
You also will begin to specialize in certain work, especially if you join a large firm. This is because business operations today are incredibly complex and fast-paced.
These two factors make it almost impossible for any one person to isolate himself or herself from the combined operations of the firm. Major tasks are divided and divided again. Think of it as an extreme form of division of labor.
So we must work with others. The globalized and complex business context demands it.
In later posts, I share group presentation tips on how to thrive and turn the group business presentation into the cornerstone experience for your first job out of school . . . or your next job after getting your MBA.
For more extensive group presentation tips, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.