How to Deal with Deadbeat Group Members in College

Most people dread group projects at school for fear of shouldering all the work or getting a lower grade because of another students’ carelessness. Also, group dynamics can be complicated due to different personalities and styles of work. A successful group project requires that every member be willing to cooperate with others and contribute their fair share. Unfortunately, there always seems to be at least one person in the group that doesn’t seem to care or does sloppy work that others must scramble to fix.

Designate a Leader

Choose a leader that has good communication skills, and can be firm but fair. Sometimes passive members may not contribute unless they have guidance, so leadership will improve both group collaboration and productivity. With a leader in place, it’s easier to determine what needs to be done and which members are best suited to each task. A good leader will capitalize on strengths, minimize weaknesses, and help guide everyone in the right direction all while giving consideration to every member’s input.

Document Communications

When working with others, it’s important to keep good records of exactly what is said and done. Not only does this help you stay organized, but these records can be used as proof in case you have to defend yourself. Send emails about progress, deadlines, assignments, and meetings. Request follow-ups from all members and make a note of which group members are not responsive. Learning to document and keep good records is an essential skill to learn before you enter the workforce and a group project makes for great practice.

Talk to the Problem Teammate

The designated leader (or any willing group member) can speak directly to the member to remind him or her of what is expected.  Be polite, but firm about the problems caused by his or her actions and how he or she needs to improve. If quality of work is lacking, offer to help the group member or to reassign roles. It may be necessary to give this group member a less demanding part in the project, particularly if it’s clear that he or she is trying but could hurt the project grade.

Go to the Professor

If you’ve tried everything but failed to make progress with a bad group member, you’ll need to address the problem with your professor. Make sure you bring copies of communications among members that outline assignments, deadlines and meeting dates. Be specific about what the group member is doing and not doing. If the professor is reasonable, your group will not be penalized for the uncooperative or lazy team member.

Group projects are rarely easy, but they do teach essential skills necessary for the workforce. No matter where you work or what position you hold, you’ll have to deal with different personalities and work styles. And you’ll also have to communicate and cooperate in order to get the job done. College isn’t much like the working world, but group projects offer a taste of what many jobs are like.

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