Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Studying in Sweden: Surviving Group Work

So as I have mentioned here on this blog before, I am back in school, starting a part-time Masters while also running a business and being a full-time Mom (Whatever that means, since I don't know too many part-time Moms – even if your child is somewhere else, you are still the Mom right? Little Swede does go to daycare FWIW)

Anyways, studying in Sweden means Groupwork, and as much as part of the reason I chose my program was because of its advertised lack of groupwork (and I actually wasn't the only one to do so), there was still a little groupwork to get us started.

I find groupwork to be a struggle. But it is true that Swedish groupwork is a pretty good testing ground for working in Swedish groups in 'the real world', it doesn't make it any less frustrating.

So here are my tips for survival – and this time I am not going to apologize for my opinion, because seriously, it is my opinion and that is what it is worth. Please note that this list is made from experiences in courses that I have taken in the past and does not reflect on my current groupwork experience! (Although they are oblivious to this blog anyway).

  1. Be careful about grabbing the reins: A great deal of time in your group will be spent hemming and hawing because no one wants to really take the leading role. There will be a lot of 'So, what shall we do?' 'I don't know, what do you think?' 'I don't know, how about you.' This does not mean that nobody in the group has an opinion. It just means they don't want to lead or be first. As someone who in the working world has to lead groups, I find this very difficult to deal with. Mostly because it means a project that should take 1 hour will not take less than 3. I often weigh the options, if I take the lead it means I usually means I will do 70% of the work, but in about 30% of the time. Sometimes I will do this and other times not.
  2. Ignore the fact that one person always does nothing or worse, cheats: There will always be someone in the group who does not pull their own weight, mostly by never showing up to any group meetings. This makes my American blood boil because this person will be receiving the same grade I do, when I bust my ass. In discussing it with my groupmates 100% of the time no one thinks it is a good idea to report this lack of participation to the teacher. Not even when one group member submited three pages of directly plagiarized work and I was forced to rewrite it or submit a piece of work with my name on it that had been plagiarized or had a 3 page gap in it could I get the group to report this person to the teacher. I admit, in every case I chickened out of reporting it myself, mostly because we are usually 5 people in the group and I wanted some back-up.
  3. Compromise, compromise, compromise – this means just say yes: When I did a group paper in the US it was a crazy experience. We argued, debated, went back and forth and in the end had a nice solid paper we could all agree on. It wasn't pretty, but we all started as strangers and left as friends. In Sweden, I find it hard to debate with my groupmates without becoming 'overbearing.' The thing is they back down right away. And seriously, I may think I am right, but I am not always right. Discussion and debate is a valuable learning tool. But instead it is all, OK, let's see how we can add that' or a quick change of subject. 


  1. This is so true! I am so glad my days of groupwork are over (hopefully). Teamwork on the other hand, totally different thing. I like that. Also, I feel less homesick now that you reminded me of things I really don't like about Sweden so thank you :)

  2. With some modifications, though, I've had the same issues going to college in the US. Sure, more arguments and less reluctance, but still, whoever's the leader ends up doing all the work, and there's always a slacker not pulling their weight. I liked that my professor had anonymous eval forms at the end of every project, though, making it safe to report slackers without being The Rat.

  3. What you bring up is really true for Swedish group work. This is the way it works and I don´t think it is the best way. I think everyone would get more out of the work if it worked a bit more as you did the group work in the US. It is awful that there will always will be one person that just gets the work for "free" by cheating or not participating and then someone else that will have to do more of the work.
    Good luck with the masters degree.

  4. I have to agree on the third part. I have been an undergraduate student for about 2 years now and what I noticed is that debates don't take place that often. I assume Swedish people prefer to just accept any argument immediately even if it is totally wrong. From one perspective this is good but it also takes out the whole fun of debating. One thing I love about debating is the noise!!
    As the other two parts.. I think they are not a Swedish thing but rather can be found in every situation, even outside university. In about 3-4 big projects we had until now there was almost always some Swede who took the leader role by himself! As about the slacker.. there is one everywhere. I have myself been one(not trying to cheat or anything) but I got reported by the other group mates. I never really met them so I guess that's why or else I suppose that people would have more sympathy towards me like they had to the people in your experience.

  5. There's a great deal of truth in what you have written here, and not just about group work but about the mentality of consensus and agreement and avoiding conflict etc, which is somehow unhealthy i have come to feel after several years living in Sweden "OK, let's see how we can add that' or a quick change of subject" is a recipe for disaster

  6. @SCA - glad I could help
    @t-anna - interesting. Those forms make a lot of sense. I know we American students can be a bit lazy now and then, too. (not talking about myself of course)
    @pithikos - interesting, I have noticed a bit of gender differences regarding what I wrote above, that a lot of Swedish guys seem to have an easier time taking the lead then Swedish women, which I find fascinating
    @Gerrynobody - I struggle with the passive agressive way of avoiding conflict, mostly because it is so against my nature, glad to hear I'm not the only one who finds it a bit on the unhealthy side