Few of us ever really look forward to or genuinely enjoy group work. It seems like there are always communication issues, or a group member who just doesn’t want to do the work, or who even completely disappears. But the fact is that, frustrating or not, group work is important for your future, particularly your career, where you’ll once again be forced to work with others who may or may not cooperate and pull their own weight. Team work is just a fact of life, but you can count yourself lucky if you’ve never had to deal with situations like these. We’ve found 11 really terrible group project horror stories, from semester-long projects that were almost completely lost, to dead mice and totally clueless group members. Read on and thank your lucky stars that you weren’t a part of these amazingly dysfunctional groups.
- Switzerland is not in Asia:
Sometimes, group projects become a nightmare because of lazy members. Other times, it’s because you’re stuck with incredibly stupid people. In this case, it was the latter. In a group project based on The Amazing Race, students were asked to create clues that would help teams go from one Asian landmark to the next. The group overcame many obstacles to reach a B+ grade, including members highlighting restaurants and tourist spas instead of Mecca and Jerusalem, but the most astonishing obstacle was that one of the group members was convinced Switzerland was in Asia.
- Dead mice:
Most group project horror stories don’t involve any actual “horror,” like blood, guts, or death, but this one does, at least of the mouse persuasion. One lab partner had to go out of town for winter break, and was unable to care for mice in a cross-breeding project he shared with his partner. Naturally, the other partner took over, but proved to be a terrible caretaker. He completely changed the tank environment, and the mice died as a result. Upsetting enough, but the most disturbing part? He didn’t bother to dispose of the bodies, leaving them in the tank for his lab partner to find on his return.
- I don’t want to write source code:
If you’re taking a software engineering class, you can expect to have to do some sort of programming and source code writing. That’s kind of the point of the course. But try telling that to this team. In a team of eight people, three group members told their project manager that they didn’t want to write source code. Their reasoning? They haven’t done it in six or seven years, despite the task being a requirement. Others were unable or unwilling to keep up with their tasks, and better equipped group members had to pick up the slack. To make matters worse, at least three other group members had real money at stake: without a grade of B or higher, they wouldn’t be reimbursed for the course by their company.
- Nothing, nothing, nothing … PANIC, PANIC, PANIC:
This story is certainly familiar to anyone who has worked on a group project: the slackers of the group dawdle and forget about assignments, but when it’s crunch time, go into a panic about everything that must be done. In this group, they were given class time to exchange emails and assign responsibilities, but after that, nothing really happened. After a month, no one had communicated, and one member began reaching out, to no response. Team members virtually disappeared, even missing classes, until suddenly, the weekend before the project was due, emails began pouring in, full of panic. Group members at least tried to pretend like they did something, sending poorly composed slides, but in the end, one team member had to do all of the work and final editing, and at great cost: he had to forego plenty of sleep, call in to work, and he even missed his son’s first ball game.
- You came in and changed everything:
It’s a terrible situation when you’re stuck with people who just aren’t smart enough to be in your class, but they don’t realize it yet. This group had a meeting planned, but one member was not able to meet as early, instead planning to arrive later. The group got to work and had quite a bit accomplished when the final member arrived, but there was a fatal flaw: all of the work they’d done was wrong. The equations were completely incorrect, and the final member had to point it out in order to fix things and move on. Unfortunately, the group didn’t take it well, and they felt like she’d just come in and changed everything. Of course, she had, but not without a good reason. Still, the rest of the group felt as if they’d been shown up, and communications dropped off for the rest of the semester, with the correcting member eventually dropping the class because of all the hostile group work.
- Mountains of data:
In this project, students had to create their own psychology experiment, collecting and analyzing data to submit as part of a large quarter project. They were put together in pairs, and this particular pair did lots of work collecting the data together and creating a paper. Things sound like they were going fine, but there was one huge problem: one partner dropped the class, and didn’t bother to tell the other. Instead, she found out when her partner didn’t show up for the midterm. Even worse, she took all of the research and analysis with her, including all copies of the written paper. Her partner was stuck with “mountains” of raw data, and had to completely redo all of the research and the paper.
- Bart Simpson’s beer:
Awkward slide submissions are pretty common in group projects, and it’s sometimes hard to create a cohesive group voice among so many different individual voices. But sometimes, things just get out of line, and in this group, they sure did. A few group members were in charge of creating the PowerPoint, and when the rest of the group saw it, they were a little bit shocked by the quality, which was extremely poor. One group member pointed out perhaps the funniest but most terrible slide of all: Bart (or Homer?) Simpson holding a beer can, with the heading of “Vitamin D Toxicity.”
It’s hard to work with other people, and at times, even harder to keep everyone in communication. This group had a real challenge staying in touch, as one member sent email upon email, but rarely got a response. Of course, they did eventually write back with less than a week to go, but even then, only offered half-commitments, and a complete lack of dedication and time frame of actually getting things done. To make matters worse, the only active member couldn’t even approach the others in class because they weren’t there the day they were put into groups: a sure sign of trouble right from the start.
- Sorry, I have homework:
College is a busy time for everyone, and it’s a crazy juggle of classes, assignments, and if you’re lucky, a little bit of down time. It’s easy to think you’re the only one, but the fact is, everyone deals with being overwhelmed in school. In this group of four, one member insisted that she couldn’t do anything because “she has homework,” while the others put things off (and even disappeared) until an all-nighter between the remaining members was the only way to possibly get things done. Of course, as usual, the lost members did come back the evening before the presentation was due to make sure everything was done and they’d be getting a good grade.
- 100% plagiarized:
Plagiarism is a serious issue in college, and it can lead to consequences like academic suspension and even expulsion. Most students realize that plagiarizing is a mistake, but one member of this group apparently didn’t get the memo: when she sent in her presentation slides, they were 100% text, and not just that, but 100% copied from the Internet. To her credit, she did turn it in on time, though not exactly an amazing feat considering it probably took about five minutes.
- Fearless leader, fearful group:
Leaders in group projects usually emerge because everyone’s slacking and at least one person has to take a stand and make sure everything gets done. Unfortunately, that was not the case in this group, and it was a project with high stakes: worth 70% of the group’s grade. Two of the four group members got everything done on time, but the other half was seriously lacking. One was the self-appointed leader who was quite outspoken, but despite her leadership, did not actually do anything. The other told the group she’d got it all taken care of, but ended up sending a 2 a.m. text explaining that she just didn’t get it and it was too hard, a mere 30 hours before the project was due.