Natural Born Leaders

I have to say, I’ve never been a fan of group projects. I think it started back in grade school when I regularly got assigned to groups of four to tackle history projects. My report on the explorer Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth has clearly tainted my educational progress for good.

But whatever the genesis, I’ve never really liked sharing my work with others. I always felt that I’d be the one who would end up doing all the work. I always figured no one would want to work way ahead of schedule like me due to an intense fear of deadlines (I was pretty much right about that one). And I always worried that the work would never be done as well as if I’d done it on my own, regardless of how much smarter my teammates were.

When I came to HBS, I feared the worst. I mean, I knew HBS wouldn’t be like Kellogg where brushing your teeth is a team effort, but I’d heard about study groups, field studies and team midterms. And I’ve got to be honest: I was spooked.

So what did I do? I decided not to do study group. Yes, I’m the one. I just couldn’t justify waking up an hour early to do the same work I’d done the night before all over again. And I knew that my fear of being unprepared would compel me to at least read every case on my own anyway, so why waste time? Plus, given the personal, emotional ramifications of September 11th, I wanted to lay low as much as possible. Mistake #1.

But the next set of group endeavors was unavoidable. When I got assigned to a group of eight for TOM project, I knew I was in trouble. Also, because I personally think best when I write, and consequently like to think things through on my own before blurting the ideas out half-formed (unlike many), I knew rough seas were ahead.

And I was right. Just ask any of my teammates. They’ll remember. The highlight of the project was when one group member (now a friend, of course) criticized my lack of speaking so much that he had to send me an apology email. That was a good day. The Sub-Artic Survival Exercise really wasn’t much better. Still reserved with new people, I kept to myself and ruminated on concepts in my mind, clearly giving the impression of being completely spaced-out.

The final project of the RC first term triumvirate was the marketing midterm. Now, I actually have a marketing background, with three years of various marketing jobs under my belt. So I figured that would help.

But no. Analyzing the Sealed Air plastic bubbles and writing about it, concisely, and under the time limit, was no small feat. I’m surprised we even finished.

But as I muddled my way through the RC, I started to realize that the group usually came up with (many) ideas I hadn’t thought of and different ways of approaching the problems. I started relaxing a little and felt more and more comfortable sharing my opinions with the group.

After all, how much worse could it get than being called quiet all the time?

By the time the EC rolled around, I felt better about teams, but still not great. I immediately signed up for an individual student research project and didn’t even consider a field study. Mistake #2. And I held my breath, worried what the group projects would eventually be like.

Well, despite my desire for control, I’ve been forced this year, yet again, to work in groups. Both my Supply Chain and Consumer Marketing classes require it. And I’m even working with friends. But still I started out apprehensive. I grumbled to myself. I fretted unnecessarily.

And guess what? I’ve never had a better experience than my group projects now. I’ve found that there are actually people who are much more motivated and deadline-conscious than I am! I can practically sit back and relax! Plus, the work gets done much faster, I get to focus on my areas of strength and stave off my areas of weakness, and doing the work is actually much more enjoyable than I even expected.
So here’s what I’ve learned from all this.

First, avoidance doesn’t work. I couldn’t stay away from group projects even if I wanted to, and all avoiding them did was put me at a disadvantage (I’m still kicking myself for not doing study group).

Second, never assume you do anything better than everyone else. Here I thought I was uber-efficient. Little did I know I would be working with Type A+ instead Type A people.

Third, working with people is usually more fun than working alone. Since when is doing almost anything alone better than doing it with others? Since when is turning down an opportunity for bonding and relationship-building a good thing?

Finally, in order to lead, you need to learn how to follow. I don’t know the best ways to do everything all the time – no one does! So sometimes putting aside the innate desire to control isn’t such a bad thing.

As for me, I’m off to finish my assigned section of my next group project. Wish me luck.