As someone who has spent more than a decade as both an executive in Corporate America and as an educator in HigherEd, I can talk about how group projects you do in college or grad school (and even high school) can help you be prepared for your professional career.
Those of you already far removed from your school days can also learn from this post as a reminder of forgotten lessons from your university days.
Why group projects can help your career? As a professor since 2003, I consistently give group projects every semester for my classes. I know this is groan inducing as everyone truly hates group projects. I get it. I do. I do not love them myself - and I have learned a few hard lessons along the way. One of those lessons I learned is that I never ever randomly assign groups (anymore) after what I like to call the the disaster of 2004 - which is a story I can tell only over drinks at a bar and I do not DRINK so it is a doozy.
Every semester, I encounter issues as the professor in helping the groups get their goals accomplished and I recall being a student and having my own groups to lead and "manage" because even as a student, I knew I had to manage the groups to get things done and to move the work forward. And, I have always been a bit controlling so it kind of went with my Type A personality.
For my students who always ask me WHY I make them work in group projects it is because when they start their careers, they will realize that their whole career is based off a group project and they usually look appalled and aghast and likely think I am wrong.
I am not wrong.
Most work today consists of projects and matrix management and that basically is like having a group project for your course in economics times 10. You need to do something but it can only be done if the other parties do their something, too. You have no "control" over these other someones doing their work other than the influence you can provide in a positive way (i.e., you cannot fire them, threaten them or go to the boss and complain). I mean, you could go to the boss and complain but you probably will not have a career for long if you do that. It is the same for my students who come to me and complain about X person in their group who is not pulling their weight. Of course, in the classroom I could conceivable "fix" the problem through artificial methods (telling the student I will fail them if they do not do the work) but I do not do that. I tell the group they need to address the problem with the student themselves and tell me the solution.
I am trying to teach real world lessons in an artificial environment. This lesson of group work and how to manage the one who tries to take over everything, the one who does not do the work, the one who overpromises and underdelivers, and their own abilities too. This is just one way I try to incorporate real world lessons into my classroome.
Lisa Vento Nielsen