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Group Projects and Its Problems

Group Assignments Vs Incentive Plans

Group assignments given either in educational or professional settings are targeted at encouraging individuals to work together as a team in order to reach a particular objective, for example, successfully getting a deal with a company’s new partner or completing a presentation on a topic studied in class. While group incentive plans are associated with financial rewards given to employees to boost and sustain their productivity (Marshall, 2013), successful completion of the group project is not rewarded financially. However, the idea that if a group collaborates, establishes effective communication, and distributes the assignments correctly will be given a reward of some sort (either monetary or not) is what makes group projects and group incentive plans very similarly. What is also similar is that group assignments teach individuals to work as a part of a team that has a common goal to reach. Therefore, group projects assigned, for example, at college, prepare students for the future work in a corporate environment where collaboration, effective communication, and reaching of the set objectives will be motivated by an incentive.

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The Free Rider Problem

Despite the fact that a group project implies the collaboration among team members and their equal contribution to the process, there are many cases when one individual wants to get rewarded for nothing. In economics, this is called a “free-rider problem” – people that benefit from the resources to which they did not make any contribution (Vander Ark, 2016). This problem is also prevalent in education; according to the article by Hall and Buzwell (2012), many students that make significant contributions to the group project feel frustration when they receive the same mark as their fellow team members that did practically nothing. On the other hand, free riding may be an involuntary reaction of some students who feel that they are not competent enough to be equal contributors to the group. This can occur in situations with students that do not have effective communication skills (especially international students to whom English is not a native language).

To give an example of free riding, let’s imagine the hypothetical situation where a team of five people was assigned to complete a project on the negative effects of smoking on patients with diabetes. When four group members discussed the distribution of the assignment, the fifth one sat in the distance playing on his phone, stating that he will call someone to get his part of the assignment. Unfortunately, there was no call, so the team members had do complete the assignment without him because they were afraid of not getting a pass. In the end, the entire group got a high grade including the student that did not contribute anything.

Other Problems in Group Projects

Group projects, similarly to incentive plans, can experience other problems. For example, the competition for the leader’s position is something that causes issues in teams’ performance. In incentive plans, a group leader is trying to be acknowledged and praised by the senior management for the successful implementation of a project. In an educational setting, students can also compete for the acknowledgment of a teacher because it can influence decisions when it comes to giving final grades. Moreover, some people are just “natural” leaders and want to be ahead of the team; if two or more individuals are selected to be parts of one group, conflicts are sometimes inevitable.


Hall, D., & Buzwell, S. (2012). The problem of free-riding in group projects: Looking beyond social loafing as reason for non-contribution. Active Learning in Higher Education, 14(1), 37-49.

Marshall, A. (2013). Making team incentives work. Web.

Vander Ark, T. (2016). How to avoid the free rider problem in teams

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