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The dreaded "group project"

My dad sent me an article from the Boston Globe the other day. I grew up in Boston and my parents still live there - they are avid sports fans in general, but particularly of baseball and football. This particular article was on the power shifts on the New England Patriots staff now that the legendary Bill Belichick is no longer their head coach. The full article is here:

I've always been more of a baseball fan myself, but the football drama isn't why Dad sent me the article. it was because of this particular sentence:

"But there's a fine line between collaboration and confusion."

The gist of the article is that a powerful single decision-maker (Belichick) is being replaced by a trio of authorities made up of the new head coach, the director of player personnel and the director of scouting. Christopher Gasper, the author of the article, certainly has varying opinions of each of them individually, but his bigger concern is that "they're operating without a clear chain of command among them."

I think this speaks to a couple of things about collaboration that I've already written a little about. See this post ( on ways collaboration and hierarchy work together; and this one ( on thinking about collaboration as being among more than just 2 parties.

I also think it speaks to one thing that many people fear about collaboration - that it will just devolve into conflicting priorities and nothing will get done. I blame the middle school group project - the core memory many people have of trying to work towards a common goal with people where there is something at stake (like a grade). We fear encountering that one person who avoids all the work until the last minute; or that other person who just takes everything over and tells everyone what to do - or maybe we fear being those people.

The best collaborators in any field have mastered the dreaded group project - they show commitment to the common goal, they know when to step forward and lead, and they know when to step back and see where things are going. One class I have taught described this as "balancing big self and no self" - that's the balance that keeps us on the right side of that fine line.

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