Group work: What happens when someone doesn’t do their part?

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This topic contains 21 replies, has 15 voices, and was last updated by  Andrew Krzmarzick 8 years ago.

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  • #169459

    Hannah Ornell

    I am about to start working on a long term group project. We have our initial meeting this week and we will be laying the ground rules and expectations for each other’s contribution to the group effort. My question to you is this:

    Should we determine at the outset what the repercussions will be for not meeting the group’s expectations? Or should we wait until a problem arises and address it then?

    What kinds of repercussions are appropriate?

  • #169501

    I think having concrete actions as outcomes of meetings or aproject launch is really critical and:

    – capture actions during the meeting

    – state them at the end with names attached

    – write them down and post them somewhere so that everyone can see between meetings (not just so they know who has what, but so they know who is doing what…or not!)

    – set a clear target date on each task

    – review progress the next time you get together

    If someone isn’t pulling weight, ask them without being accusatory: Are you stuck for any reason? Is there anything I can do to help?

    Curious to hear other insights…

  • #169499

    Ami Wazlawik

    I’m definitely for establishing guidelines before problems arise. I agree with everything that you said, Andy, and would also add that the group should develop norms around things like communication (call when running late, deadline for answering emails, etc) and be open and honest about individual strengths and weaknesses. Peer feedback on others’ performance throughout a project can be helpful.

    Though I think it’s fairly easy to develop guidelines, enforcing those guidelines isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s hard to point out when others are not meeting expectations, particularly if you know the person well or have to see them in other contexts. I agree with Andy that tact is necessary – asking rather than accusing is a better route.

  • #169497

    Travis K. Anderson

    The way the questions are stated I presume you are a Theory X manager. I tend to align more with the Theory Y style of management. Each person on the team innately chooses to want to do great and wonderful things. It is important to determine the main objectives (major milestones) and then eventually corresponding goals (interim milestones) to measure performance. Incentives should be tied to accomplishing the goals. Small incentives go a long way, i.e. pizza party, baseball tickets, $25 gift cards, etc.

    On the outset you must determine how you intend to communicate success and errors, what success means by defining completion criteria, who is accountable for achieving success, and where to record errors for lessons learned.

    Most people will buy in and participate with the team. But there are those who choose to distract progress. It is best not to let those types alter the balance. Human Resources will have the best answers for handling these individuals.

  • #169495

    Peter Sperry

    It might be a good idea before going too far down this path to determine what authority, if any, the group has to set repercussions for itself or its members. It can be very embarresing, not to mention professionally damaging, to impose repercussions on an individual which are subsequently reversed because they were beyond scope of your authority.

    Often individuals are assigned to a group primarily to act as eyes and ears for their supervisors. As long as their supervisor is satisfied with the reports they recieve on the groups activity; the groups views of whether or not that individual are meeting expectations are not likely to have a great deal of impact. You can always ask for them to be replaced but the new individual is likely to be working under the same instructions.

  • #169493

    Hannah Ornell

    Thank you for your response, Travis. I hadn’t thought about it from the “Theory X and Y” perspective. I think as a manager I would tend towards the Y side like yourself as I expect that everyone is self-motivated to meet a common goal. I like what you wrote about determining at the outset how to communicate errors and that they should be recorded for lessons learned. I think that in a group of peers, this is an effective and appropriate way to go about group work.

  • #169491

    Hannah Ornell

    Great point, it’s definitely important to know what authority the group members have so that someone doesn’t overstep their bounds.

  • #169489

    Eric Koch

    Definitely set the expectations from the start with some ground rules. This was expressed to me in my role during the interview that we’re extremely transparent here. One person does not do their part, it will become known to everyone as it can impact deadlines, client progress etc…I would just express from the start how important the work you will be doing is, that you don’t have time for people to be missing deadlines or coming up with excuses as to why they could not get their part of the job done. At the end of the day, deadlines have to be met.

  • #169487

    Lance Night

    Decide (you know there capabilities) and assign each a task. Ask if they can handle it OK. If not assign to someone else.

    In each following meeting, have each stand up and give a progress report, on there assigned task. Since no one wants to stand up and say “none” this works great. And they will tell you and the others there problems and hence get suggestions. This is subtle pressure that always works.

    This means everyones opinion is of value. Please do not go to Addolescent Management like free pizza or recess. Remember these are adults and want there opinions heard. Print out highlights of the meeting and give each a copy. You will be amazed at how well this works. Lance

  • #169485

    Lance Night

    It sounds like similar management to the Sam Golden who ran NASA into the ground with Better, Faster, Cheaper push, push and killed our Astronauts and set back NASA 10 years. If your child is in the operating room and being worked on by a doctor with a, tee time golf date, deadline/schedule. Should he hurry up and rush it to meet his Golf deadline?? I am going to set a deadline, of two weeks for you to cure cancer, now don’t give me any excuses.

  • #169483

    David Dejewski

    I’ve done exactly what Andy suggests and had success with it.

    I’ve gone so far as to assign someone from my staff as the person responsible for action items. The action item officer has a structure in front of them. It’s basically SMAART. Their job is to listen for any action items that pop up during the meeting: commitments from members, assignments, etc. The action item officer is allowed to interrupt the meeting for clarification as appropriate – “What is the due date for that task?” “Who is responsible for the commitment we just discussed?” “Does everyone agree that this is the action item?” that sort of thing.

    At the end of each meeting, I always ask the action item officer to read back the action items. We fill in the blanks: who, what, when, where, etc if they are missing before we break.

    After each meeting, the minutes are summarized and a separate section dedicated to action items is displayed on a table at the bottom. Notes are distributed to the group within 24 hours.

    At the beginning of each subsequent meeting, I ask the action item officer to recap the action items from the last meeting & ask the person most responsible to provide a status update to the group.

    This system worked pretty well for me.

  • #169481

    Lance Night

    Yes, this seems much better than carrot on the stick or suck up beat down management to me, except possible using college dorm terms like Action Item Officer? Are you the Reaction Officer? Don’t they have a name? This sounds like military management, stupid college professor made up language, not for most people. Guess it depends on who you are managing? Never meet a college professor, who could manage any real project and what they teach is already 10 years behind the real world.

  • #169479

    David Dejewski

    I appreciate the compliment, Lance. I’m glad you like the approach.
    True that the term “Action Item Officer” has a military flavor and is probably not appropriate or even desirable for many environments. After 20 years in Defense, I suppose I’m guilty of military-esque language from time to time.
    The truth is I never actually used that term in practice. It just seemed useful for describing the role. In practice, I would ask or assign a staff member with a real name to take on the duty I described above. I’m not sure any of them would want me to share their names in this forum, but they do have names. They were usually pretty sharp individuals. They needed to be to be able to pluck action items out of a given discussion stream.
    Not sure what a reaction officer is and I didn’t work with many college professors, so I can’t help you there. Sorry if you’ve had bad experiences with them I the past.

  • #169477

    Joe Williams

    “Social loafing” can be a problem within a team setting. What I’ve done in the past is to establish “norms of behavior” with the team at the outset. These norms are built by the team itself, and enforced primarily by the team through peer interactions, and secondarily by the team leader when additional enforcement is needed. This seems to work rather well. It’s no guarantee that a person won’t social loaf, yet it seems to reduce the likelihood in my experiences.

  • #169475

    Hannah Ornell

    David, I really like this idea and will give it a try. I like that it allows for a natural stream of conversation to occur in a meeting without the important takeaways being lost.

  • #169473

    Carol Davison

    Facilitate the group developing a specific, measurable, achieveable, relevant time framed performance plan for itself. This empowers subject matter experts to perform beyond the limits of your job series and lets them meet challenges and opportunities from many different perspectives. It also keeps you from taking counterproductive actions and achieves automatic buy in. Post the peroframnce plan on the a shared drive or the max. ( Keep whomever is above you informed on your group’s production. When you assign work say “Terry we need the training analysis by September 28. Ask for it on the 28th. If Terry needs more time give it. If Terry fails to perform to specification the second time ask how you can help him meet susupenses. If Terry fails to perform to specificaiton a third time, take your doucmentation to Terry’s supervisor and ask for a replacement. Remember that producing to specification is most important. No one wants cheap crap in a hurry.

  • #169471

    Eric Koch

    Certainly along the same spectrum. However, I would say that A) We’re not curing cancer and B) The expectations set are a little more realistic, especially when it comes to deadlines.

  • #169469

    Joe Flood

    I really like the sound of Theory Y. I think it’s the best way to deal with people, for it is positive and constructive. People come to work to do good things. Management’s role is to help them.

    My experience has been as a project manager with no actually authority. I had to cajole people to get them to do things. But people like to do cool things. They want to work on projects that make a difference. That’s the key – show progress, be organized, respect the group’s time and create something great.

  • #169467

    John Barrett

    I learned the hard way.

    Open your mouth and ask what is going on.

    • Too busy? Drop off the team and get me a replacement
    • Bored? This project is vital and your input is needed
    • Am I doing too much? Maybe I need to learn to let go and delegate. That’s why I have a team.
    • Maybe his role is vital, but not at this point in the project. He doesn’t see how he fits into the picture?
    • Communication communication communication
  • #169465

    Jennifer Bledsoe

    You should specifically outline the consequences of missed obligations. Mitigating is always a great technique!

  • #169463


    The best time to talk about potential problems is before they occur. Setting expectation as a group, not only for the work, but for what will be done should a problem or conflict arise, is a smart move.

    My colleague and I have developed a “Collaborative Agreement” template that can be used to talk through how a group will collaborate together.

    In addition, we spent time learning what contributes to successful team functioning and developed a “Field Guide” which is freely available. This is scientifically focused – but I have had conversations with people in other sectors and disciplines who say it resonates for them as well.

    I could go on forever about this topic – I am really passionate about it. So many wonderful things can come from working together as a team.

  • #169461

    Dick Davies

    I’m always fascinated by people who can tell when others aren’t doing their part. Defining fault is to them a higher value alternative to contributing.

    I never go into a project without figuring I’ll do it all, if it comes down to that. Get more than half of the project team feeling that way and you’ve got it licked. Leadership is not exhortation or blaming, but demonstration.

    If you can get everybody pointing fingers, you’ve got a classic project meltdown. “I don’t think it was my wasting time in the constant meetings, some other guy who musta caused it!”

    Lord Of The Rings was thirteen losers who could never complete the project…but they did. If you want to read how it would have happened had they used best practice project blamemaking, get a copy of Bored Of The Rings, now available as an ebook.

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