Group Projects: 5 Tips for Dealing with Lazy, Unresponsive Members

I’m fairly certain most of you will agree with me when I say that group projects kinda suck.

Sure, sometimes they’re awesome. For one of my classes during my senior year of college, I had a group project where we got to build a freaking trebuchet. Granted, it only launched ping pong balls, but it was super fun to build and made up a huge portion of our grade.

Most of the time, though, group projects aren’t as fun – and they’re usually much harder to finish than a solo project that you can sit down and crank out yourself in a night or two.

The problem is further exacerbated when one of your group members doesn’t pull their weight.

This was the subject of a question I answered recently in the College Info Geek community:

“Often, I am paired up with group members that refuse to get any work done no matter how many times I attempt a conversation, email them, call them or even just talk to them face to face. I don’t know if they lack motivation or if there is just something wrong with me that makes them refuse to work with me. Help?”

I’ve definitely had to deal with this problem before, and I’m sure you have as well. So, to help you avoid a situation where your project is due at midnight and you’re still waiting at 11:56pm for the last piece to be emailed to you, here are five tips for dealing with an uncooperative group member.

  1. Ensure your group is communicating well. It’s not always one member’s fault; perhaps your group isn’t sharing information and setting deadlines well. When you start the group project, don’t ask people to take on work – assign it. Make sure each member verbally affirms what they’re responsible for. Also, make sure each member has the contact information of the others.
  2. Use a project management tool. Managing group projects through email is only a little better than shoving papers into those clear plastic bank tubes and shooting them to each other with potato guns. Instead, try using a tool that’s built from the ground up for managing group projects. I use Asana for all the team projects here at CIG, and I love it. It’s free for groups of up to 15 people as well.
  3. Build mini-deadlines into your project. Instead of assigning each person their role and expecting all the work to be done by the project’s final deadline, set up mini-deadlines (milestones) along the way so the work isn’t be procrastinated on. Also, assign one group member as the project manager, and make sure everyone else gets their pieces of the project to that manager at least one day before the deadline. This gives the manager time to put everything together and turn it in on time.
  4. Talk to your professor if needed. If you’re going to do this, realize that your professor knows that some students won’t pull their weight, and that they’re likely expecting you to treat this project as preparation for real-world projects. This means that you need to be approach them in the correct way (just like you do with homework problems); don’t do it before trying to solve the problem yourself, and make sure you bring documentation of all the attempts you’ve made. Once you’ve tried solving the problem internally and failed, make sure you talk to your professor ASAP – don’t delay until near the end of the project.
  5. If nothing else works, just suck it up. It’s awful, but there are going to be times when you simply need to suck it up and do the work that your lazy group member isn’t doing. It’s totally unfair… but it’s excellent preparation for the real world. While people generally do become more responsible and mature when they enter the working world, there will always be certain people who don’t. You’ll most likely have to deal with a few of them in any job you take.

Hopefully these tips will help you the next time you’re dealing with a lazy group member. Even if you end up having to do their work for them, don’t worry too much about it – you’ve got the work ethic, which means you’re going further than they ever will (especially if you’re using these tips for getting the jobs you want).

If you’re unable to see the video above, you can view it on YouTube.

Looking for More Group Project Tips?

10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades - Thomas Frank

If you enjoyed this article, there’s an entire chapter on group projects in my free 100+ page book called 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades (While Studying Less).

The book also covers topics like:

  • Defeating procrastination
  • Getting more out of your classes
  • Taking great notes
  • Reading your textbooks more efficiently

…and several more. It also has a lot of recommendations for tools and other resources that can make your studying easier.

If you’d like a free copy of the book, let me know where I should send it:

I’ll also keep you updated about new posts and videos that come out on this blog (they’ll be just as good as this one or better) 🙂

Video Notes

Group Projects: 5 Tips for Dealing with Lazy, Unresponsive Members

Here’s a Pinterest-worthy image for sharing this video 🙂

  • Asana – my new favorite web app for managing group projects. I used Trello and Basecamp in the past, but I’m liking Asana even more than those tools.

Have something to say? Discuss this episode in the community!

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Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

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  1. I agree with all of your points except #5. Right now, I’m in my senior research class. We are randomly assigned teams and work together throughout the semester to complete this research project. In order to graduate, a student must successfully pass this course, it is the Capstone course. My group has four members. One member is a foreign student whos first language is Chinese. This individual has a reputation for being lazy and riding on the coattails of other people to pass their classes. I refuse to ‘suck it up’ and let him pass this class because my grade depends on the effort of my other group members and the sufficientness of their contributions. Almost two months in to the semester and the before mentioned group member has made zero contributions to the benefit of the whole of the group. His name does not deserve to be on our final paper and he does not deserve to pass this Capstone class and go in to the free world and mooch his way to success. I don’t feel comfortable allowing him to cheat off of our groups successes. Cheating is what we are doing, would you put my name on a research article that I didn’t help write? It doesn’t make sense! Is that wrong of me? How do you react in a situation like this?

  2. I had a project where my group litterally wouldn’t let me do anywork, banning me from the google doc and out right telling the professor “we don’t get any work done because of him” even though I’m the one giving them answers.

  3. So I had one lazy member that failed to meet deadlines, never once logged on and turned in misspelled work. We kicked her out and deleted her off the document. I emailed the instructor. She lost 150 pts (3 letter grades) oh well.

  4. College group projects most certainly are NOT good preparation for the real world. College group projects teach the worst possible life lessons: all of the counterproductive with one of the positives. Professors who assign group projects and then abandon their supervisory responsibilities are only illustrating why they are teaching college classes instead of running Microsoft. I have yet to meet a college professor who would recognize leadership or teamwork if it bit them in the ass. I say this as a retired sea captain with 40 years experience, the last 26 in command of naval ships, which believe it or not run on teamwork and leadership.

    • Thank you for that response I 100% agree, what kind of person gets to be lazy and then pass a class with a good grade, and the response is oh well they will grow up when they actually have to do it? NO, if your going to give group work then make sure that it gets done and the first group member who gets a bad review gets one more chance and if they can’t get busy and participate, then KICK them out of the class. I spend hours doing work and projects and picking up the slack of a lazy person while working a fulltime job. So NO all lazy group members do is stress out actually good students, and then you go out in the real world and those idiots are your boss and they are still taking credit for your work and being lazy! Because they have a degree, and why would they have a degree if they didn’t do the work? Because the real world is just as bad as the entire concept of Group work. FAIL THEM!

  5. I’m doing a group project with two other members to do with food and I have to do all 17 tasks because they’re too busy worrying about who’s going out with who to be c9ncerned about the stress I’m under right now. I also really need to start revising but I can’t because I’m spending all of my time doing this dumb group project for everyone else. I’ve tried to get them to listen but it just doesn’t work!

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