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The Case for Cooperation

Anyone  who knows me will tell you this: I am thoughtful, calculated, and stubborn. Given these traits, at face value I am not the ideal candidate for group projects. In the past, I have seemed to work best on my own because I like to do the best work and I like to do the most work, to reduce the possibility that someone else will mess it up.  I like to conceive ideas myself, plan on my own, and operate as an individual.

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At one time, I would have be the first to tell you that I work best alone. I took great pride in this independence. However, my statement of independence could also be seen as one of arrogance; who am I to say that my work is better than that of three or four or five people put together? Suddenly, my feeling of independence morphed into a sense of superiority, and I began to obsess over why I was not able to be a better group member. Why did I have to work alone in order to be happy with the final outcome?

After some contemplation, I came to realize that it is not that I as a person am not designed to be a team player, but rather that I have simply not been part of the right groups. I have not been part of a group with the ability to consolidate and pursue a single, comprehensive goal.

In order to understand what I mean, think of being part of a four-member group project. Person A prioritizes producing the best project possible; he or she will presumably get an A as a result of controlling the entire assignment. Person B wants to finish the project in as little time as possible; the fastest way to check off all the requirements is the method that this person prefers. Person C desires to contribute as little as possible to the project while still receiving a passing grade; when faced with a group issue, Person C will likely side with whomever promises he or she won’t actually have to do anything. And finally, Person D prioritizes creating a project which is above all aesthetically pleasing; as long as the PowerPoint presentation is crisp and color-coordinated, he or she is satisfied.

Given these conflicting personalities and goals, it is easy to see how it is impossible to advance each of these goals simultaneously. However, if these group members could somehow align their disparate goals toward a common one, the group work could be much less painful. If the members were willing to put their heads together and commit to cooperating, they could end up with something far greater than each imagined on their own. For example, Person A could forfeit some control if group members contributed and committed to using their time effectively; not only will this ensure all requirements are fulfilled for the sake of Person B, but will also prevent one person from being overworked, for the benefit of Person C. In addition to good planning and communication, each member can do their best to maintain an element of creativity so Person D can be proud of the result too.

If each member could simply agree that there are many elements that make up a great end product, it would be easy to work with a group. The issue is that often people can only focus on advancing their own personal agendas, and in the process frequently miss how to create something far better than what they alone wanted in the first place.

Humans are not designed to be hopelessly single-minded, poor team players. The trick to teamwork is to find the right team with the right vision as to maximize the group’s collective potential. In order to be a good team player, one must find the right team—and in order to be part of the right team, each individual that makes up the group must share a common goal.

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Thoughtfulness is not a one-man game, being calculated is not a downfall, and stubbornness need not carry a negative connotation. Perhaps it is the very same traits that make us great as individuals that also make us great team players. The thoughtful individual certainly has the ability to think through issues and craft solutions on his own, but a group of thoughtful workers can do so in a more dynamic and multidimensional manner. Similarly, a calculated individual may be admired for her aptitude for planning and ability to carry out her actions purposefully, however a collection of calculated teammates could bring this commitment to an entirely new level. Just the same, a stubborn individual is known for being committed to his own ideas, but a team of stubborn and willful people can push even the most inflexible thinkers to their limits, allowing everyone to come to the best solution. Being a good individual is impressive, but being a good teammate is inspiring.

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Stephanie Scanzillo