How Group Projects Are A Metaphor For Life

You learn a lot about the mold you – and others – fit into when you’re forced to do a group project. We’re either the fake leader, the real leader, the follower, the naysayer or the flake.

You can judge which category you fall into based on a few basic criteria: how well you can make decisions, how much you care about the project, and how much work you actually take on.

You’ll continue to encounter the archetypes on this list long after graduating college. Think of your group project as a chance to figure out each archetype and find a way to work with them for the sake of success – whether that’s in business or relationships. Here are the 5 characters you'll encounter in group projects and throughout the rest of your life:

The Flake

The Flake may have good intentions, but it’s hard to remember that when they’re 40 minutes late. Or when they don’t show up at all.

There will be flakes at every stage of our lives. If someone is a flake during college, they’ll likely be a flake until the end of time. Not that time means anything to them.

They will miss deadlines in their future careers. If there is a Groupon deal for rock-climbing lessons, they’ll tell their friends they want to do it, then never buy the deal.

If you are the flake, you have to fight your natural impulses to become a productive group member.

Pro tip: If you’re working with the flake, you’ll need to administer constant reminders about what you need them to contribute.

The Fake Leader

The Fake Leader is the first one that volunteers to be the spokesperson of the group. They are not shy about wanting credit for being in charge – if being in charge really means delegating work to everyone else.

You’ll meet Fake Leaders, not just in college, but as you get into the workforce. You’ll recognize them by how they take command of a meeting, but pass the buck to everyone else when it comes time to making a decision.

It extends to their friendships outside of work, too. The Fake Leader will send the rock-climbing deal to their friends, but then step back and let everyone else figure out the logistics.

If you are the Fake Leader, you need to recognize that being the spokesperson is not the same as actually leading. Pitch in on the workload to be more than a figurehead.

Pro tip: If you are working with the Fake Leader, you need to learn to stand up for your own work and not let them take all of the credit.

The Naysayer

The Naysayer is the thorn in the side of every group project. They don’t volunteer any ideas of their own, yet they have strong opinions about everyone else’s ideas.

The Naysayer will take those qualities into every aspect of their lives. They won’t make decisions in the workplace, but they’ll lean heavily on their veto power.

And when a friend is a Naysayer, their squad is eternally annoyed when making plans. They don’t want to buy that rock-climbing Groupon, but it’s not like they have other suggestions either.

If you are the Naysayer, try taking a beat before you strike an idea down. Have an alternate solution ready, so your group members know you’re staying positive.

Pro tip: If you’re working with the Naysayer, patience is key. You need to make them feel like their opinion is heard, but keep moving forward with problem-solving.

The Real Leader

The Real Leader of the group doesn’t volunteer for the position – they assume the position when they realize the Fake Leader is so in name only. According to the Pareto Principle, they will be in the 20% of workers who are getting 80% of the work done – a scientific rule that proves that there will always be an unequal distribution of work.

But when it comes time to present a paper or speech in class, they don’t take the spotlight. They let the Fake Leader keep their place in the food chain and don’t speak up.

The Real Leader will later get into their career and find that they’re workaholics who have to fight their way up the ladder.

In their relationships, the Real Leaders are the people who are figuring out the logistics of the Groupon rock-climbing adventure. They coordinate between everyone’s schedules and make the reservations.

If you are the Real Leader, keep up the good work, but make sure you’re getting credit where it's due.

Pro tip: If you’re working with the Real Leader, support them by pitching in and spreading the workload evenly.

The Follower

The Follower of the group is the workhorse. They have no desire for the glory the Fake Leader seeks, and even less desire for the pressure the Real Leader is assuming.

They take direction well, and they are totally reliable. The Follower is the true rock of the group, always in the 20% of the Pareto Principle.

The Follower is content to be in middle management in their careers. They will put in the work, but they’ll never go above and beyond. They’d rather be sure to have a good work/life balance.

When it comes to friends, the Followers buy that Groupon deal and give their available dates promptly, but they will never initiate a group hang themselves. Rock climbing isn’t that important.

If you are the Follower, you, too, should keep up the good work. And don’t be afraid to speak up with your own solutions.

Pro tip: If you’re working with the Follower, make sure they understand their work is appreciated.

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