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Home | Episode #73
That Group Member
April 20, 2021 | Student Producer:

Olivia Duncan
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That Group Member
Sebastian is simultaneously the best and worst group member in a team striving to win the Changemaker Challenge. (14 minutes)

[Warning: Explicit Language]

Olivia: Think of the last group project you had to do. Were there any slackers? Did you dread meeting up with your group or would you actually be able to call any of your group mates your friends? Even extremely social people or ones that love to work with others have been in a group project where they thought, geez, this would just be so much easier if I could do it all myself. So why do we work in groups and how can we make group work, work? This semester, I was in a group that defied all of my previous beliefs about group work. We actually all became friends and I enjoyed working with them. I'll be talking with my group mate, Sebastian, about how friendship is so important to group work and how it allowed our group to succeed because of it, even when there was conflict. The group that Sebastian and I were in were competing in the Changemaker Challenge, which is an idea competition where groups compete to solve a problem within the San Diego community. This year, the topic was homelessness. Now Sebastian was simultaneously the best and worst group member. And this was in part because of the friendship dynamic in the group. You might typically get annoyed at the thought of working in a group that keeps getting off topic, but actually getting off topic was a huge part of building friendship within our group. One week when our group was discussing potential ideas for the Changemaker Challenge, Sebastian randomly blurted out.

Sebastian: Hey, we should all work at the same hotel, like hotel clerks, since we're all COMM majors. [Laughing] Every single COMM major I've talked to who has graduated works at a fucking Motel 6. So.

Olivia: Lizzie burst out laughing. The rest of the group, shook our heads and smiled. This comment might seem dumb or completely off topic for a group doing a project about homelessness. And that's because it is, but in a nuanced way, it is bringing the group together. Sebastian is uniting the whole group by saying something we all have in common, we're all COMM majors and he's allowing us to picture our group in another situation working together, at a hotel, for some reason. This helps us bond as a group, but it also does something even more important. Obviously we're not all going to get internships at a Motel 6, but Sebastian is giving the group permission to say things that are ridiculous. This is how the power of a group is created by bringing together ideas and combining knowledge to complete a task. And when you're coming up with ideas for a problem that you've never faced before, you might need to come up with ideas that seem ridiculous. The rest of the group's response to this ridiculous comment is just as important too.

Lizzie: I love how the, the assumption is that my goal is to work as a hotel clerk.

Olivia: Lizzie entertains the idea and then critiques it, giving valid points. Bailey does this too. Remember when Sebastian mentioned the Motel 6?

Bailey: Motel 6, that isn't even a hotel, it's a motel.

Sebastian: I know! I was like at least work like at a Four Seasons or something cool.

Bailey: That's so bad.

Lizzie: Best Western. I can't.

Bailey: Best Western!

Olivia: She points out why this idea is flawed, but still laughs along enjoying imagining it. When coming up with ideas for group work, all ideas should be entertained. Even the ridiculous ones. To come up with solutions to a group problem, the maximum amount of alternatives should be considered. The most ridiculous one might be the one that works, but you have to critique them all too, and really imagine them to see if they would work. And the friendship dynamic within our group allowed for this process to be even easier. So for us getting off topic allowed us to feel comfortable to express our ideas. We created an environment where throwing out ideas felt low stakes. Even if the group didn't like an idea, we knew that we all still liked each other as people.

Sebastian: It allows people to feel more, a little more free. It allows people to express their ideas without feeling like they're going to be judged.

Olivia: People are often reluctant to express themselves when you're in a group full of strangers. You don't really know how they'll react to your ideas and the possibility of your group mates disapproving of your idea can be pretty embarrassing.

Sebastian: The worst thing they can do with, to someone who is like expressing themself and just being different is shutting them down. It hurts like mad. Like it's a terrible feeling when someone doesn't ride with your idea, like it's important to have people who like accept you and, and don't shut your ideas down, but like roll with it. Like it's all these little things psychologically that are extremely important for group work.

Olivia: In addition to the welcoming environment we created, it also helps that many of the members of our group knew each other before we got assigned as a team.

Sebastian: I will say that a big reason why our group worked was because we all somewhat knew each other beforehand as well. Me, you and Lydia know each other pretty well. I knew Lizzie from freshman year. I sat next to her for the whole year. So the only person I didn't know is Bailey and other groups that I've been in, people who, if we don't know each other at all, like I'm in Persuasion and Propaganda right now, but I'm with these two other people I've never talked to. And it's just, it's weird. It's, it's awkward. Like we'll be, we'll be like in a, in like a zoom call and everyone like we're supposed to be talking about the project and just no one talks. It's just silent and everyone's muted. And I'm like, I knew, I know that if like you or Lizzie were in that group, it would be completely different.

Olivia: Although most of my group mates and I knew each other before, I think our friendship was really brought out when our professor, Dr. Keeling, made each group do a bonding activity at the beginning of our group project. Our group decided to play Quiplash, which is a game where you basically have to come up with the most ridiculous response to a prompt, and then the group votes on the response that they thought was the funniest.

Sebastian: Like the Quiplash for like an hour and a half. Like that was fun, that was cool. That like breaks down barriers and stuff like that. And like Quiplash itself is like such a good thing to get to know people, but coming into it as friends, it made it so much easier. Like we're all in this shit together. Like everyone's going to flop at some point, which is what what's cool about the game is sometimes you just have nothing that comes to your mind and that almost actually can be even funnier because it's just like such a stupid, when you don't have anything, it almost leads you to like an even stupider thing to put down, which makes it fun.

Olivia: Quiplash almost felt like an analogy for the way we went about our brainstorming process for the actual project. Sometimes the ideas that we didn't think were that good were the ones that ended up being a crowd favorite. And when the group didn't love your idea, that was okay too.

Sebastian: It's trial and error. You're going to throw some bad ideas out there, but eventually they will accumulate into good ideas. And dude, I have read like heaps on heaps of books that reiterate that point so much where it's like, don't be upset when you have a bad idea or don't like get on yourself and you don't act or do the right thing. Like it's all part of the process. It's all trial and error. And it's, you know, don't be, don't be scared

Olivia: After playing Quiplash together, we started to understand why companies and businesses make their employees do team bonding activities.

Sebastian: You know, you always hear like team bonding with like companies and stuff like that. It's like, you must really want to like get along with your coworkers or you better hope that they're fun people because I mean, those are the people you work with. Like again, I kinda came to a couple of like realizations throughout this project, to be honest, of like, this is what it's going to be like. It was like, it was a, probably one of the most valuable things I've done this semester, to be honest. So

Olivia: This group gave us hope that in the future group work might not be that bad as long as you have the right people and the right bond. However, this group that I had started off thinking was the best group I'd ever been in, seemed like it was starting to end on a sour note. I was responsible for editing our final video submission. And two days after I'd asked him to Sebastian had still not submitted his portion of the video to me.

Olivia: So our project was going great. And everybody, you know, trusted each other, we're all contributing, I say, equally. And then, you know, it gets to the night of when we're supposed to turn in the final video and...

Sebastian: Someone didn't do their part.

Olivia: I just, I had to ask you a lot of times to...

Sebastian: No, because I feel like I feel like I feel like a dick. I feel like an asshole kind of.

Olivia: Why?

Sebastian: Because I just didn't care. I really didn't care. And I knew when you texted me early in the morning and you were like "Hey, can you send it in?" I was like, "Eventually I'm going to get it done. Yes." But I want to do my stuff. I want to do... I think that just, that's what happens with a lot of people in group work. Um, you know, it's never going to be smooth sailing ever because people end up wanting to do their own thing sometimes, or their, you know, stuff in their lives end up getting placed higher on like what's more important. What, what do I want to get done today? You know, our priorities for me, the video was not a priority that much.

Olivia: This was so frustrating to hear. Of course this video is a priority. I get it. Everyone has stuff going on in their lives, but this was literally a 30 second clip that he had to record so that we could submit our video and have a chance at winning the Changemaker Challenge. So Sebastian was really letting me down in that moment. Not only as a group member, but as a friend.

Sebastian: Like dude, it's embarrassing. I even feel awkward talking about it almost because I could tell that you were upset. And I was like, I just procrastinated and didn't give a fuck. And you're my friend.

Olivia: After two days of asking Sebastian over text to turn in his clip of the video, I finally just called him on FaceTime and basically yelled at him over the phone. I just couldn't understand what was so hard about turning in this short video. I got so upset. I hung up on him. I asked about Sebastian how he would have reacted if we were not friends, and I had behaved the way that I did that night.

Sebastian: I'd be like, who the hell is this? I'd be like, who did like, she acts like we've known each other for like years. Like why is, why is she like reaching out to me in this manner? It's impolite. I would probably think and I would literally be like, this is impolite. This is almost, I would say rude. Even though I'm the one who's messing up.

Olivia: If we weren't friends, I might not have felt comfortable enough to call him out. Or I might not have even cared enough to. If we weren't friends, Sebastian might've brushed me off as another annoying group member that he didn't care about. If we weren't friends, he might not have learned from this experience that his group mates, his friends were counting on him and disappointing your friends hurts a lot more than disappointing a stranger.

Sebastian: If there's a conflict and there's tension then with your friend, then it's, it can be awkward almost because they're your friend, you know. With a stranger, it's almost kinda like, um, you're never really going to have to like have another interaction them. So maybe you're just more or less inclined to care about something that you did to them, I guess. Like the worst thing is letting down people who you love or you care about, even though I did care, I like I wanted that video to be good.

Olivia: And luckily the video was good in spite of the conflict. Good enough that we ended up winning the Changemaker Challenge. And Sebastian was the one that came up with our winning idea. For the first time Sebastian's work in a group was having real world impact.

Sebastian: How cool it is that we're, like getting to the age where we're starting to have ideas for the world and we can like actually see them come to fruition. In high school when you do group work, you're completing like a presentation or you're writing an essay together and that's cool. But like now us, me and you talking about it right now, I've realized my whole life I've screwed off in groups because I knew it never really was super important. I mean, I think that might be the first time where like, I've done a big change for like people. Like, I can't say I've done that a lot, but this is like, something that, like I felt proud of, like I told my parents, I was like, this is like something cool.

Olivia: This project seemed like a turning point for Sebastian. He started to realize that now group work isn't just something we're forced to do in class. Group work is how things get done in the real world.

Sebastian: There were so many moments in this project, in this group where I was like, this is what it will be like working at a job. Like really, like the importance of like being able to brainstorm and having like, being together because that shit matters now.

Olivia: Now I'm not sure if Sebastian really learned from this because we ended up winning, even though he slacked off at times.

Sebastian: If you think about like a team, like a sports team who's winning all the problems that they experienced, whether it be in the locker room or in management kind of dissipates. And it doesn't matter cause you're winning problems go away when you're winning. So.

Olivia: But despite all conflict, the friendship between me, Sebastian and everyone else in our group allowed us to come up with the most innovative ideas. Our friendship, allowed us to enjoy working together. Our friendship made it possible to resolve conflict and push ourselves to do our best work. And like Sebastian said...

Sebastian: You know, it's never going to be smooth sailing, ever.

Olivia: But ultimately friendship allowed us as a group to succeed.