How to Survive Group Projects

Do you dislike group projects?

Group projects used to fill me with dread, but I’ve come to love them. How did this change happen? I was introduced to the magic of sociocracy.

A camel is a horse designed by committee

Does this old saying mean something to you? Do you connect with it?

For people unfamiliar with camels, it can speak of a fear that working in a group means sacrificing efficiency and effectiveness. It supposes that good decision-making – nimble, sleek, powerful (like a horse) – becomes awkward (lumpy like that camel) when a bunch of people get involved. 

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Oh no! Group project!

Your fear of group work may have started early. As a kid in school did your teacher divide the class into teams and then tell each team to write a report together? Did the kids dread it and grumble about all the extra work and complications the teacher’s plan created, especially when it was so much easier to just write the report alone? 

Good news

Maybe you remember that feeling and maybe, like a lot of us, you carry it with you now, dreading the difficulty of working in a  group. If so, here is good news.

There is a way to survive – and even enjoy –  group projects. It’s called sociocracy.

Get horses when you want horses

Not only does sociocracy help you survive group work, it helps you find useful solutions together, probably better than the ones you would have found on your own. And when you use sociocracy it’s quite possible you’ll like working as part of a team!

Surviving and thriving starts with the aim

In sociocracy everything starts with the aim. The aim describes the purpose of the group. 

Remember that old saying: a camel is a horse designed by committee. Now let’s say the aim of that committee is to design a horse that can travel long distances without water, across sandy terrain, and through temperature extremes.  In this case, a camel  is a brilliant solution!  

Sociocracy asserts that a group is effective when the aim is clearly stated and everyone understands the aim. Try it for yourself: next time you are working in a group, before you start gathering everyone’s ideas and opinions, clarify your aim together. What need, in detail, is the group trying to meet? Make sure everyone is clear on the aim before you jump to solutions.

The simple power of rounds

Sociocracy is a group decision-making process that values everyone’s voice and everyone’s time.

By using rounds each person in the group is heard. This leads to better decision making and it is satisfying, even a relief, especially if you’ve been in groups where the voice of one or a few people dominate.

Try using rounds the next time you’re in a group that’s looking for ideas. Start by agreeing on a speaking order and an amount of time for each person to talk (“Grace will start, then Pablo. I’ll go after that, then Katya.” We each have 2 minutes”), then invite each person to share their thoughts one at a time. 

Rooted in indigenous practices, speaking in rounds is a simple but powerful group process that leads to better ideas and solutions.

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With rounds, everyone can be sure they’ll be heard. No one is fighting for airtime. That means people are more present, and better able to hear each other. And when everybody has the chance to speak the group gets more information and more ideas.

The whole is more than the sum of its parts

Groups can function well when our aim is clear, and when every voice is heard.

Through the use of rounds and clear aims, sociocracy brings fairness and efficiency to group projects. And sociocracy has a step-by-step plan for problem-solving in groups that gives structure to the process.

No more fighting to be heard. No more confusion about what the group is doing, who is doing which part, and by when. With everyone clear and able to contribute, group projects become effective and fun. People can build on each other’s ideas, sparking solutions that no single person would have found on their own. Through sociocracy, group work is how we find and build our best ideas. Maybe even creative, camel-level ideas.

*Thanks to Rachel Carson EcoVillage’s Stefani, Stu, and Mel for conversations that inspired this article.


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