Why I'm Not A Team Player

I don't work well in groups. There, I've said it. One of my greatest moments of anxiety is when a professor or lecturer says, "I'd like you to break up into groups and come up with a solution". Which is ironic, because when I teach at Vanguard I do this all the time.

Yesterday Mark and I went to an adoption conference. It was really great material. But at one point, we had to have a "mock" family meeting at our table and brainstorm a solution. There were eight of us. As soon as we started, my eyes started to glaze over. Something about working in a group just makes me want to crawl in a hole. The fact that the guy sitting next to me had his shirt tucked into his underwear and was wearing a fanny pack was not helping. Nor did it help that one couple decided to wear their bluetooth earpieces for the entire 6-hour presentation, which left me with a uncontrollable urge to rip them out of their ears.

But it wasn't this situation in particular that was getting to me. I act like a person with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder every time I'm faced with a group project. I get anxious and uncomfortable. I squirm in my seat. My palms sweat, my heart races. I either become really, really quiet, or I start to lead and organize the whole conversation. Passive Quiet Lady or Loud Controlling B**ch. One extreme or the other.

I think this all stems back to my childhood, when I was in a gifted program. A couple of us were chosen to be a part of an initiative called Future Problem Solvers. We were put into small groups, and given a global issue to solve. This was in the 80's so it was often about dealing with the cold war, or how computers will change our life. We had to sit in this group, brainstorm, apply several criteria-selection steps, and then come up with a solution unanimously. We stayed until we were all in agreement on the solution, and no adult could give us guidance other than the groundrules. I'm not sure what happened to the solutions, but I sometimes wonder if the government was taking the advice of a couple of nerdy sixth-graders.

Future Problem Solvers was the bane of my existance. You try sitting in a group of verbally precocious gifted kids for a few hours who all think they are right, and see if it doesn't make you want to pull your hair out. I hated sitting there coming up with solutions and going around and around until we could all agree. I wanted to be doing something important, like playing with My Little Pony or doing my Get In Shape Girl exercises or planning a routine to Madonna's True Blue album. Apparently the whole thing was so traumatic that it haunts me today. And I know that there was (and still is) some pride involved, because I'm always sure that, if left alone, I could come up with a brilliant solution in a fraction of the time. Although there might have been something about fanny-pack guy yesterday that tripped a memory of some of my old gifted classmates. Yeah. I blame the fanny pack.


  1. had to look up fanny pack its bum bag in britain but i can see how that would make you squirm. Whenever i see people i have to fight an uncontrollable urge to rip them off the wearers. But yeah i thought fanny pack was something completely different

  2. I am the EXACT same way. I actually found that the older I got, the worse it got. In grad school, when my professors said "break off into groups," I would inwardly start to cry and swear. And I have the same two reactions: crawl in the corner or take control. I think mine doesn't so much come from being in GATE when I was younger, but from my crippling insecurity and shyness.

    I had a Get in Shape Girl mat when I was a kid. My cat used to bat at the figure of the girl. There were dozens of tiny holes in it. :)

  3. uh .. yes .. that is me -- either I am leading or I am silent ... not good at middle of the road participation in groups -- hate it.

  4. I feel your pain. I am the same way about groups, and I made my students do group work all the time. Why is that? Also, loved your reference to Get in Shape Girls and True Blue dance routines. Yeah, been there, done that.

  5. I, too, despise group work--conferences, training sessions, yadda yadda yadda. And what's with the "Turn to your neighbor and give him a 1. hug, 2. high five, 3. handshake in church??? What a superficial, nonsensical way to connect with others. Those types of artificial groupings make my skin crawl. I think the Amish have it right...the only meaningful time to group-up is for barn-raising and quilting. All else is a wasteland.

  6. Thank you! I feel the same way about group work! Yet, I seem to have had no problem forcing my students into groups. ;)

  7. i start with the intention of being quiet, but then i have to take control in the middle when it becomes clear that i am obviously the smartest one in the room. ;)

  8. First of all, me too! I hate group work. The other thing is, I was a future problem solver. We have so much in common. And for the record, I was angry at you every time you made us work in groups! HA HA. I try to get out of the room to take a very important phone call when the group work gets initiated. I am glad you feel the same!

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