Group dynamics

Monday, December 18, 2017

It is Monday, the 18th of December. Yesterday, we de-installed the exhibition, marking officially the end of the first term styding MA Design: Expanded Practice at Goldsmiths. I am flying back to Greece tomorrow for the holidays and I thought of taking some time to reflect on the group project.

As one would expect, when assigned to work in a group of people in which each member knows absolutely nothing about each other, anything is possible: from collaborating perfectly and producing amazing results, all the way to having no constructive arguments and potentially fighting or even worse, giving up.

In a master’s programme of 100 people who are divided into groups of 5, I saw examples covering the whole spectrum of possibilities. I saw groups where only one or two students took initiative and leadership, groups where no one did, forcing all members to work individually (absolutely not what the project brief was about), groups where multiple strong, opposing opinions led to frustration and ultimately limited potential. I also saw groups however, where students collaborated in a great way despite differences, arguments, conflicts and communication difficulties. I am happy to say that I have been in one of these groups.

During the past three months of working on the Musée de Refusés project there have been several ups and downs. There were five students in my group including me, all from different countries and backgrounds (Canada, Greece, India, South Korea and Ukraine). This did not lead to conflict but rather to challenges in terms of communication. I wouldn’t say it was the language barrier—we all speak fairly good English—but mainly cultural differences as well as different expectations in terms of the project’s aims and outcome.

There were meetings that felt so productive that would make me jump into working on the project non-stop. There were other meetings though that did make me feel like giving up. When one member feels like the direction the group is taking is not the one it should be taking, they ought to be ready to talk about it and express their opinion clearly. This was often not the case in some of our meetings. One of us felt left out at times and appeared not to be on the same page, but failed to make the others understand what the problem was, often making us feel guilty—I know I did! We did however try to communicate our ideas which the four of us seemed to agree on and tried hard to embrace what all five of us had to say. Maybe we didn’t try enough?

Sometimes the urge to work individually can be so strong that does not allow one to make effort within a group. On the contrary, it can make one reject the efforts of the group altogether, only to produce an individual project, parallel to the initial, collective one. Gauthier, a friend and a member of another group in my studio, designed the image below which I feel depicts perfectly the only two ways things can move forward when working with others. In our case, there was an—arguably small—shift towards the second mode of engagement, since not all of us were happy with producing a collective outcome.

Source: Notes from Goldsmiths #3

The reason I said I was happy with the end result even though it was ultimately not a collective outcome, was the way my group mates and I managed to work around that, embrace it and communicate it to the audience in a way that made it feel like a totally collective project. Yes, there were questions, yes, the tutors’ feedback did point out the obvious but in the end, we managed to make both outcomes appear to be a continuation of one another. It was a sacrifice we had to make in order to avoid disappointment and I have to admit, it did turn out to be a great feeling, knowing that we managed to dodge a problem that could have potentially gone sideways in terms of the end result.

It was fun, exciting, difficult, challenging and frustrating working in a group, however I am definitely looking forward to seeing how working on my own is goint to be next term.