Group Projects Aren't Going Away

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One of the most dreaded parts of undergrad is working on a group project where your group is randomly selected by the professor.  Not only are you not with your friends, but you are placed in a group of people with varying levels of motivation.  This often results in having one person do the lion’s share of the work while the rest do some tasks and contribute minimally.  Not very fair.  Well, in Corporate America…

Group projects aren’t going away 

Project Assignment

The most common way to starting working on a project is for it to be assigned by your manager.  Sound familiar?  Yes, this is comparable to when your professor assigned group projects as an undergrad.  When assigned a project from your manager, you really do not have much say in that assignment initially.  Later on down the road, if you really do not like what you’re working on, bring it up to your manager and you may be able to change your focus for the project or remove that project completely from your workload.  Be open to the project when it is assigned to you.  At first it may seem uninteresting, but you may uncover a topic that you have a true passion for.

Another method for project assignment is by asking a question.  As a result of making an observation and asking a question (or questions), you follow your curiosity until you get to a point where you feel more time needs to be dedicated to that observation and potential project.  If this is the case, it is worth bringing up to your manager to try to gain buy in to have this be a full time project.

Project Work

As an undergrad, you are taught high-level strategy in business courses.  

As an entry-level employee in Corporate America, you will be working on executional, project-based roles rather than business strategy.  

This is not a hard and fast rule, but based on my experiences having a strategic role right off the bat is incredibly rare.

It takes some time to get comfortable with this.  For me, it took about a year to really grasp where I fit into the corporate puzzle with the work I needed to do.  At the entry-level stage of my career, I was not needed to come up with strategic visions or plans.  Rather, I was needed to execute on tactical areas of the strategy.  This often meant doing the “dirty-work,” small tasks that are not overly challenging, but are critical to advancing a project.  While not always fun to do, it is important to have an appreciation for this type of work.  Someday you will be a manager delegating these smaller tasks to an entry-level employee.

People in Projects

As was mentioned previously, you do not get to select who is on a project with you in Corporate America.  In being assigned a group, you will interact with a variety of people across many different job functions.  You may need to communicate with the finance, analytics, marketing, and other departments in order to achieve a common goal.  It is not always easy to figure out how to communicate with these different departments - everyone’s brain operates differently.  For example, being able to succinctly get your point across to a technology colleague is not always easy for someone with a marketing-first thought process.  It takes practice and patience.

Similarly to undergrad, you will work with many different cultures in projects in Corporate America.  As an undergrad, the presence of different cultures is widespread.  There are people from all different backgrounds, countries, nationalities, etc. in your classes and projects.  While it is certainly frustrating as a student if one of your group members does not speak English as their first language, it presents a great opportunity to get to know another culture more deeply.  Despite language barriers and culture differences, you figure out a way to make it work to complete the project.  In Corporate America, there are people from all over the world - India, China, England, Bulgaria - you name it, most countries have representation in Corporate America.  With different nationalities, come different cultures and customs.  Being able to understand the cultures and the best ways to work and communicate with them is critical to advancing your project.

Working with so many different cultures in Corporate America was an unexpected experience for me.  I work for a US-based company with products almost exclusively in the US.  I had no expectation that I would work with so many people from across the world.  It is an enriching experience to work with people from different places across the world and get to know them and their backgrounds.

The main difference between the people in projects in undergrad and Corporate America is motivation.  An undergrad student may be a senior that is graduating in 3 weeks and could care less about the result of a group project.  They put forth no effort and getting a “D” means absolutely nothing to them.  In Corporate America, this is not the case.  Everyone in the company is tied to common goals.  The success of a project helps all parties track towards these goals, which improves company performance.  Better company performance leads to better bonuses, which directly impacts the individuals.  Personal motivation to succeed in Corporate America is a much more prevalent than in undergrad.

Comparison to Undergrad

As was mentioned throughout this post, there is not a significant difference between projects in undergrad and Corporate America.  At the end of the day, you are working in a team to accomplish a common goal.  The concept of teams does not change once you have a diploma.  If you are willing to learn and be a team player, you will succeed in group project settings in Corporate America.

Thought Starters

  • What do you think will be the most surprising thing you encounter in project work in Corporate America?
  • How do you think you will leverage your learnings as an undergrad to work on projects in Corporate America?