7 Steps To Take When Your Group Member Isn't Pulling Their Weight

As soon as college students see the words “group project” printed neatly on their course syllabus, hands immediately start shooting in the air as questions arise. Can we choose our groups or are they assigned? How many people can we have in a group? Group projects have the power to elicit strong emotion and reactions from students. Some people cheer and immediately begin planning with their friends when they hear of a group project, while others groan and dread the assignment. Whether you enjoy group projects or not, it’s likely that you have encountered that lazy group member who slacks off and leaves everything for the other members to do. These situations can be incredibly frustrating and off-putting, since they add to your workload and cause confusion and irritation among the group. But don’t feel too frustrated before you consider the options you have when a group member isn’t pulling their weight.

1. Talk to them.

Your group member might have a legitimate reason for why they haven’t been contributing equally to the workload. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and mark off the individual as lazy or as a slacker, but you shouldn’t make assumptions about them. If you’re the project leader, you can try having a heart-to-heart with them and trying to figure out what’s been going wrong. You can also have a group conversation with all the members of the group to get everyone’s input in at once.

2. Set deadlines.

When a student slacks off, procrastination is their biggest weakness. They’ll wait until the last minute to turn things in, and their submissions will be so close to the deadline that they’ll hardly have time to check in with the rest of the group before they’re sending it in. to avoid these kinds of situations, set clear deadlines along the way. Having one single deadline for the end date of the entire project can diminish the urgency of the work—it seems SO far away. If you set up deadlines for little bits of the project along the way, you can ensure that all of the work will be completed in a timely manner, and you can hold all group members accountable.

3. Keep your cool.

Deep Breath Chill GIF by JosephinaFrustration and annoyance can quickly take hold when you’re dealing with group members who aren’t pulling their weight. But letting these negative emotions rise to the surface will benefit no one—neither you, nor any member of the group. Make sure that you keep your cool and have rational, calm conversations with your group.

4. Divide up the work clearly.

People can easily get away with not completing all the work when they have not been clearly assigned certain tasks. Make sure that the work has been equally divided among all group members and that each member is specifically assigned to different tasks. This way, all group members can be held accountable if they miss a deadline, or if a certain section is lacking.

5. Have clear communication.

Be sure to communicate across the group clearly. Set up a reliable form of communication: group text messages, email, Skype, etc. Have regular check-in times throughout the week so that group members can report back about what they’ve done, what needs to be edited and what they’re struggling with. Good communication is essential to success among all teams, and group projects are no exception!

6. Talk to your professor/TA.

If you’ve tried talking to the group member slacking off, you’ve tried setting up deadlines and you feel as though nothing you’re doing or saying is getting through to them, it’s probably time to talk to your professor or TA. You shouldn’t worry that your professor will perceive you as being annoyingly impatient; as long as you explain the steps you’ve taken, they will likely be pretty understanding. Talking with your professor or TA can also help you think of better strategies to approach this group member.  

7. Don’t freak out and don’t be afraid.

hip hop television GIF by WE tv

Confrontation is scary, especially when you have so much pent-up frustration. But as long as you make sure to maintain a calm demeanor and don’t let emotion get the best of you, you should be able to get through a civil conversation with your group member. And don’t feel like you’re all alone in this—professors and TAs will usually be eager to help you when these situations come up.

Group projects come up often, and as much as we might hope and beg for a good group, we don’t always get what we want. When you’re in a group with someone who isn’t pulling their weight, who’s slacking off and who isn’t going through with their promises, it’s important to talk to them and establish clear rules. And if it reaches that point, don’t be afraid to talk to your professor or TA. Just know that you don’t have to go through this alone! Group projects depend not only on the hand of fate, but also on how much you and your group members put into it. If a group member isn’t pulling their weight, don’t just let it go! Confront it and learn to deal with it.