I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends: Working with Others

Lately I’ve been rereading one of my favorite books, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 by Dr. Tina Seelig (yep, re-reading). I don’t usually re-read books, but when I do, I take notes. This book has opened my eyes and my mind to many important life lessons, and I would like to share one of them with you all today. In her book, Dr. Seelig pointed out something I never really thought of – in schools, we tend to be taught that we should shine through and be the best, be it academics or in sports. This made me question and wonder what this kind of attitude might mean for us as students and as employees in the future.

Credits, awards and medals are handed to individuals as symbols of achievement throughout their years in school. However, in the grand scope of things, fostering this notion that one must be cutthroat in order to be commended may not be the way to go. Don’t get me wrong – if you have some cool skills up your sleeve, that is something to be proud of! But give it a quick thought – when you get employed, the chances are, you will be working as part of a team, and your productivity is measured through how well you cooperate with others and achieve certain outcomes.

I’m quite certain that most of you have had one or two group assignments, and there’s bound to have been a project where there was that one person who did 95% of the work, another who did a lot of nodding but not much of anything else, and finally, that one person who free-rode through the entire work and acted like (s)he owned the project (we all know who we’re talking about). For the most part, based on past experiences and anecdotes I hear from my friends, group projects are not popular. Understandably so, when not everybody is equally as motivated!

In an environment where we’re mostly credited for individual achievements, group work may just be an ideal platform for unmotivated individuals to simply do nothing and get a good mark, since everybody gets the same group grade. So why don’t we change how group work is run?

In order to motivate her students and to foster real-world entrepreneurship, Dr. Seelig prepared an interesting task in class. Her students were put into groups and all they were given was five dollars and two hours. Within these boundaries, the groups had to find a way to earn money. Now this is motivating for the vast majority of us, right? It’s a challenge with a time limit and promising returns. What’s more, students get to have a taste of what it’s often like in the real world; working in a team, and trying to make money out of doing that.

The results were outstanding – some groups managed to earn some cash by opening a lemonade stand while other groups topped the charts and earned about 600 dollars in total. This group ran a restaurant reservation system, where each member booked some tables at a restaurant for peak hours and sold the spots to those who were willing to pay up to twenty dollars instead of waiting in line.

If you’re just like me, you would have read these examples thinking, “I could have thought of that!” You’re right, you could have. Perhaps such entrepreneurial ideas would have come to you if you were given such exciting tasks in class and had the opportunity to bounce off ideas with your group mates in the pursuit of a unified goal. Conventional teaching methods may foster the idea that only the best individuals get commended, while Dr. Seelig’s approach encourages a cooperative environment where each contributing member can be rewarded, thereby motivating them to try their very best. I really do hope that more classes take Dr. Seelig’s approach in teaching, so that we can come to associate group work not as a chore, but as practice for the real world. Like The Beatles said, “I get by with a little help from my friends” – imagine how much more productive we’d be if we were to see our classmates and/or coworkers as our friends, instead of enemies.

Moeka Komachi

About Moeka Komachi

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." - Maya Angelou

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