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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).

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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.

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