When I was in college I took a Business class that culminated in a group project. The semester’s grade depended on the success of the group project. My friend also took the class and his team was off to a running start. They settled on an outline right away, assigned roles and had regular meetings outside of class. My team couldn’t seem to pull it together. No one could agree on a project plan. Everyone had a different idea and each team member wanted to be the ‘presenter’. The outline was a constant work in progress. Meetings would be planned and half of the team would show up. The only consensus among members was that we would pull it together at the end and cram before the deadline if needed.
Of course that’s exactly what happened, we crammed before the deadline. We worked all weekend and stayed up all night. Since we never properly held team meetings we really didn’t know each other and by the end of the weekend we simply knew too much. Tom typed really loudly and constantly chewed gum. Sara made copious notes but never produced any usable information. Fatigue set in and bickering erupted in the wee hours of the morning. My friend, the one on the team with the solid outline and well-organized team got an A. My team got a D.
I know another group that had a team project that should get a D. They all work for the government – The United States Congress.
Congress had a team project with a clear objective and deadline titled ‘Lower the Debt Ceiling’ and their performance during the project was abysmal. It’s unclear whether all members of congress attended the session where the task of ‘Lower the Debt Ceiling’ was assigned. One thing's for sure there were no assigned roles, no outline and no plan. The group hasn’t demonstrated any of the infamous buzz words of 2011: collaboration, synergy, innovation and my personal favorite – strategic decision making.
I learned two things from that team project in college. First, cramming before a deadline is not a path to success. Second, knowing your teammates and working well with them is as important as the study topic. Apparently members of Congress missed that class. Paralyzed in perpetual conflict, Congress made little forward progress on the ‘Lower the Debt Ceiling’ project and crammed to meet the deadline. Did Congress members learn that active debate can lead one to acquiesce to the majority, for the progress of the team, which is more productive than fighting for individual points at the cost of the project’s success?
The dismal display of professional procrastination and inability to progress toward effective legislation must be remedied. Fire them all.
The new hires must be considered carefully. It is possible that the congress members’ poor performance is not a reflection upon them, but of those that hired them. And ultimately they were hired by us, the voter.
Therefore, I suggest a new formula for assessing an individual’s eligibility for public office. Before each election, all candidates will be sequestered in a large room with uncomfortable chairs and fluorescent lighting. The candidates are then presented with a task, tools and a detailed list of their constituent’s interests.
The task is to make the color grey. The candidates are provided with one black crayon, one white crayon and one white post-it note. Some constituents like the color black, some like white, none of the constituents like grey. By Monday morning, eating nothing but Chinese takeout and pizza, the candidates must produce a plan to make the color grey in order to remain on the electoral ballot.
The candidates would be under constant observation. Their ability to communicate their constituents’ color interests while developing a plan for making the color grey would be assessed and graded. A candidate that can effectively represent - yet forego when needed - the interests of their voters to profit the overall progress of a solid grey color plan is a good hire.
A candidate that cannot work with a small team to develop a solid grey plan in one weekend will definitely not be able to resolve major legislation over a long period of time, in a much larger room with many more people.
The current members of Congress wouldn’t have been able to agree on an order from the Chinese takeout menu much less pass the task. They would never have made it on the electoral ballot.