Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What to do about lazy group members?

  1. Feb 3, 2017 #1
    I am a Computer Science major - I am unfortunately in a group where the other two members are lazy, and I end up doing most of the work. It's too late to change groups. The class itself consists of a research paper/presentations, as well as a programming project/app. Every time I clearly tell them what they need to do, and they say they will do it, but they either don't do anything, or save it until the absolute last minute, and end up doing a subpar job. I sometimes have to go over, and "improve" their work. They also ask me questions on how to do things.

    Ultimately, I cannot just do my part and not do extra work - We all get the same grade, and I don't want my grade to suffer. I fear that being overly confrontational with them will even further push them away.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 3, 2017 #2


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I would talk to your professor and ask permission for you to break off from the assigned group and do your own submission of the project. The other two can continue on their own (you have given them a great start).
  4. Feb 3, 2017 #3


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    Berkeman's advice is probably your best bet, even though it will add additional work. I would also leave some feedback for the professor: group projects should have individual contributions that are graded individually, and then some small percentage of the grade (maybe 5~10%) based on group completion of the task.

    For how that might work...

    I feel like it would possible to assign smaller sub tasks within the larger task to individual students, or even have the students themselves determine that division of labor. For the research papers/presentations there are always smaller tasks that can be divided out to various students with proper forethought. Maybe the research requires data to be collected on X number of things and analyzed. So each student would be responsible for their smaller X topic that would form the sum of the whole work and presentation.

    For an app it might be possible to have one student work on the backend, while another works on the interface, etc.

    Leaving some part of the group grade (5~10%) ensures that the students will still be working together to some degree (the point of group work) and to ensure the project is compatible in the end. It would also make sure students are exposed to the areas that aren't necessarily part of their sub task. Obviously, with some projects you might run into problems such as some work being dependent on future work, and you'd need workarounds for that. It's also harder on the professor to come up with good designs that accomplish the goals of the assignments and to keep things fair.

    Just seems like it's worth that extra preparation to prevent what's happening to the OP, which is pretty common in undergraduate work. At least in my experience.

    It's too late for that to help you, but may help the next batch of students.

    At any rate, you'll be dealing with people who're similar to your classmates at other points in your life in the future. Don't be afraid to remind them of their commitments to the task at hand, it isn't confrontational.
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2017
  5. Feb 3, 2017 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    I seldom worked with others during my CS masters.

    One time it worked well. The other student and I were in a friendly competition getting the same grades and always turning in homework within minutes of each other. He ran into some difficulty with his studies and asked if we could work together. I sent him my program and he added some stuff and it went back and forth a couple of times.

    We both sent it in for a grade. I got a B and he got a C. When I questioned the prof on why the B when the program passed all tests, I found he hadnt even run it. he thought i was working with some other student whose program had failed based solely on the naming style of our variables (it was the same style as the course book duh)

    In the end I got an A and my friend got a B. The prof was a newly minted PhD and tended to make a lot assumptions about things. He graduated from the same school as me and was actually my age at the time.

    My second collaboration was with two GE students on a realtime programming project. We decided to write an Atari 800 game requiring two computers in assembler. The first guy said I'll do the joystick and sprites. The second guy said I'll do the computer communication and I got stuck with everything else including the screen display. The result was a working game where after 30 seconds of looking at it the prof gave us all A's. Kind of anticlimatic.

    The strife came earlier when we needed to put things together. The sprite guy had one page of code and four pages of sprite data. The comm guy had one page of code he hacked together as there was little documentation on how the comm port actually worked. My code was 25 pages of display interrupt code that had to multiplex calculations between screen blanking interrupts to avoid slowing things down.

    The sprite guy had the gall to say we should merge our code into his. Fortunately the comm guy who understood the complexities of our code said we should merge into the display code instead and so we did. Crisis over.

    At work, you can expect to run into this as well as other problems like others taking credit for your work or backstabbing from other team members depending on how poorly the project is managed. Be aware and stay ahead of instead of away from the politics to survive and thrive.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2017
  6. Feb 4, 2017 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Ah group work - the bane of every perfectionist, the holy savior of every slacker, and the great reducer of workloads for professors (or those stuck marking the projects).

    I think just about everyone struggles with this problem at one point or another. And it tends to get worse once you get out into the real world.

    Dealing effectively with people on your team and sharing the workload is a skill set that you develop over time and with practice. And that's not to say that honing these skills will solve every problem. Sometimes you get stuck with an anchor. Sometimes you get a great group to work with (and should probably think a little about who the anchor is).

    Here's some tips;. I'm sure you know these, but maybe there's some insight that could help.
    1. Start early on projects. You can alter your own schedule as deadlines loom, but other people may be less flexible - sometimes for reasons they can't control. The more people you work with, the more schedules you have to juggle. Aim to finish well ahead of deadlines for the same reasons.
    2. Establish responsibilities early. Everyone on the team should know what he or she is responsible for and what everyone else is responsible for as early as possible. Make goals specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-limited. Leave meetings with specific action items.
    3. Listen to what others have to say, even if you don't agree with it.
      It's good to be clear, but were you elected to designate tasks? Just because you might understand the project faster than your team mates doesn't mean that you're in charge. Are you getting any pushback because of your leadership style?
    4. Meet as frequently as you need to. Often frequent shorter meetings beat less frequent long ones.
    5. Get to know the people in your program and figure out who will work well with you early on. This probably won't be your last group work class even if it's too late to change groups for this particular one.
    6. Develop courage to engage in critical conversations. If a group member is not pulling his or her weight, bring it up and be honest, but be respectful In doing so. Avoid talking about group members behind their backs.
    7. Accept feedback from others on your own performance.
    8. Avoid negative talk about the project - particularly in your own head. It can get very easy to start shifting blame when you feel like you're putting more effort into the project than the others. But none of this changes what you have to get done. Focus on the tasks that need to get done.
    9. Sometimes you get stuck with a crappy group. It happens to the best of us. In most cases it's not going to have a significant impact on your education or career. Push through and move on.
    10. Voice your concerns with your professors and seek feedback.
  7. Feb 4, 2017 #6


    Staff: Mentor

    Excellent advice!
  8. Feb 7, 2017 #7
    I agree! Excellent advice, thank you guys.

    The only thing...Please tell me this is NOT what I'm going to be looking forward to in the real world. This is my last semester and I was hoping that I was going to be done with this problem. I would assume at most companies, if you are not competent and not contributing, you are going to be shown the door.
  9. Feb 7, 2017 #8


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    Avoid government work then.

    I would say it exists in some form or another everywhere you'll go.
  10. Feb 7, 2017 #9


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    The problem in the real world is that some groups really DO have people who are bad slackers - politically adept slackers and they gain power and can purposefully make you (not them) look bad.
  11. Feb 8, 2017 #10


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I wish I could say this is the case, but as others have said - once you get into the working world you'll have to work with all different types.

    The good news is that a lot can depend on the specifics of the position(s) you end up in. If you really don't like group work, you'll probably gravitate towards positions where you don't have to do it too much. And as you do it, your skill set for dealing with people who aren't pulling your weight will grow. Your authority and options for recourse will also increase. Right now you're pretty much limited to complaining to your professor who has little vested interest in your individual performance. Managers/bosses often have more riding on the performance of you and your team.

    Depending on the environment, people aren't often shown the door when they under-perform, but they do often get shifted responsibilities. The real frustrating paradox is that if you perform well, it can sometimes end up in you becoming a "goto" person - which means extra work for the same pay.

    That said, I'd focus on the positive. When you're a student, everyone you're working with is at the same experience level as you are - so there's often a lot of confusion and uncertainty simply because they don't know what to do. In the working world, you're likely to be teamed up with more experienced people who can mentor you and provide awesome learning opportunities.
  12. Feb 10, 2017 #11
    I don't know why professors still insist that such projects or beneficial or that it simulates anything happening in the "real world." (i.e., the work world outside of academia, which most professors have never inhabited).
  13. Feb 10, 2017 #12


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member


    Why, so that two or three can think their way through an assignment activity more successfully than just each alone. Also, not always enough equipment and materials for EVERY student to do an assignment or lab activity himself in the same class meeting.
  14. Feb 10, 2017 #13


    Staff: Mentor

    This is absolutely hilarious and so Irish in its humor. I need to send it to my son whos working on a law degree and sometimes has to work in a group.
  15. Feb 10, 2017 #14
    In some cases it's ok. I get labs for example - but at least in that case everybody is there at an assigned time.

    Otherwise, for homework assignments, I think the group aspect should be voluntary or the assignments should at least be properly scaled so they can be done by individuals.

    When I was given group assignments I always just told the professor I preferred to work alone due to family and scheduling. (Mostly true).

    There's no "I" in team, but there's no "team" in Dave. So there.o0)

    -Dave K
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted

Similar Threads for lazy group members
Physics Study Group