Group Projects as Group Incentive Plans

Team projects, which students at school and university level often participate in, in many ways resemble group incentive plans offered by many companies. Understanding the common problems that team members face while working with each other can help both students and employers adjust their strategy to achieve better outcomes.

Group incentive plans are employee remuneration designs whereby employees receive rewards based on the results of their collective performance (Gerhart, Milkovich & Newman, 2014). The very definition illustrates the similarity between student team projects and job-related group work. At school, students engaged in a group project split responsibilities to produce a final product (such as an essay, a report, or a presentation) and receive a common grade based on the quality of their work. Another similarity is that many employees and students often do not enjoy working on group projects because of several problems that arise in the process (Hall & Buzwell, 2012).

One of such problems is the issue of free-riding – a concept that originated from economics but is applicable in many other settings. Free-riding is defined as a type of behavior whereby a person does not contribute to the common goal but still benefits from its results (Delton, Cosmides, Guemo, Robertson & Tooby, 2012). In group projects, especially when teams are assigned by the professor rather than being formed by the students themselves, it means that one of the students does not make a contribution to the overall progress or its quality is low (for example, merely copying the material from another source rather than writing it).

Another issue evident in group incentive plans and team projects alike is the low level of satisfaction of the group members (Hall & Buzwell, 2012). The problem can arise for different reasons: for instance, a person may feel that the amount or quality of their contribution is not proportionate to the benefit they are receiving. Group dynamics may also come into play, especially if members hold varying opinions on the same subject, which leads to disagreement and maybe even conflict. Consequently, the work environment in which team members operate is not enjoyable or even hostile.

To sum up, most people have probably experienced the common problems associated with group incentive plans because of their past team work. Employers designing compensation plans should keep these issues in mind and address them so as to avoid conflict and dissatisfaction in their workplace.


Delton, A.W., Cosmides, L., Guemo, M., Robertson, T.E., & Tooby, J. (2012). The psychosemantics of free riding: Dissecting the architecture of a moral concept. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(6), 1252-1270.

Gerhart, B., Milkovich, G., Newman, J. (2014). Compensation (11th Ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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.

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ChalkyPapers. "Group Projects as Group Incentive Plans." September 16, 2023.