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I am currently experiencing a very unpleasent situation. We are a group of 5, working on a software project for "professional school". We use Discord to organize us and to talk with each other.
Everybody is doing his/her task and delivers on time, as well as communicates properly, except for one guy.

He takes days to respond to anything and does not deliver his tasks on the dates he promised to deliver. We are not yet in a hurry to finish the project, but it is annoying as hell to wait for 1 person to finish his task, so that the others can move to their next task.

Example:

Thursday morning I 'ping' him in Discord, asking how far he is with his task. No answer on Thursday, that's why I 'ping' again on Friday. Again no response. Someone else 'pings' him on Sunday, because he still didn't respond. On Monday we finally get a response, which states, that he is like 25% done with his task. On that Monday he tells us, that he will be done by Wednesday and promises to deliver. On Wednesday, we all wait for him to even show up to our group call (we have one every Wednesday for 1 hour so that everyone actually works on the project at least once a week. This call was previously on Mondays), but he didn't show and didn't deliver his work. Then finally on the next Monday he delivered his work, which only he can understand.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) we have a group call again to which he hopefully shows up and explains how to use his work. I already 'pinged' him 2 times since Monday, giving him a task which only he can complete as he knows how to work with what he delivered, but yet I didn't get a response.

He is knowledgeable with Discord, and he is online often enough to read it, but he doesn't/ignores it. Everyone is expected to work at least 1 hour per week, but more is better. The other group members are annoyed by him as well.

My question:

How can I "force" him to deliver the work everyone is waiting for as well as answers within a timely manner?

Note that I do not care if I have to be unfriendly. My goal is to get the message accross and have it stay in his head. Also note that the whole interaction we have as a group is online through Discord (text-chat as well as voice-chat). We can't contact the teacher until the next school block, by which the project should be finished. I would assume that we are required to handle this on our own as part of our apprenticeship.

I don't think that location is important, but for reference, this is taking place in Germany.


As many people suggest on how to deal with the situation overall, I want to clarify that it is not really what I am looking for.

I am prefferably looking for a solution to raise his overall participation in the project (work delivered as well as Discord chat)

  • 9
    If your teammate doesn't pull his weight, what's your lecturer's policy on you switching teams or booting the non-responsive one off the team, if worst comes to worst? – user8671 Mar 27 '18 at 10:16
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    Document his behaviour. Tell him what you expect of him. And the consequence could be that you stop working together if he not stops slacking off. I do not know how your teacher will react. But it seems you will be completing your project faster without him. When there are no consequences why should anybody change their doing? – Picard Mar 27 '18 at 11:45
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    "I am prefferably looking for a solution to raise his overall participation in the project" If you ever find a way to do that with no leverage and no involvement from the teacher, please write an answer yourself because I'd be very eager to hear it! – AllTheKingsHorses Mar 27 '18 at 13:00
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    Welcome to pretty much every group project ever! People will suck, management(teacher in this case) will ignore because work is being done. Boot the guy and divide his work on the rest of the team. This will boost your work output considerably and probably raises quality a lot as well. These kind of guys will never put in their weight and they will have to crash and fall to learn their lesson. – Totumus Maximus Mar 27 '18 at 13:40
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    You admit you're currently in no hurry to finish the project. It sounds to me like the biggest issue is that he commits to deadlines he can't meet - personally I'd start by figuring out why that is. Perhaps he has other priorities that take up a variable amount of his time, perhaps he's just really bad at estimating. In either event maybe you need to suggest adding some buffer time to his estimates so that he has time to deal with these issues and the rest of you aren't disappointed when the deadlines pass. – delinear Mar 27 '18 at 14:35
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You write in your comment:

From my experience with this teacher, frankly said: he sucks! I really doubt that he is gonna do anything. I bet he tells us to deal with it ourselfs

OK, then I'm going to answer based on the assumption that you really can't force your lazy teammate (I'll call him Bob). However, before you assume that, spend some time discussing with your cooperating teammates whether they agree that this is really true. If they can think of a way to convince or force him, go for it.

I've recently been through a "real world"(-ish) software project with similar problems: multiple project partners (companies) who put in vastly different levels of effort - with two of the partners always trying to push responsibilities to others, not delivering their stuff on time, and ghosting on the rest when they found it convenient.

The trick to get through this for me was to consider failure of the project as an option. Be prepared to let the project fail and collect clear evidence that it failed because of your lazy team member. (Again: this should be a last resort, after you've tried hard to rectify the issue in other ways. See other answers...)

  • Reduce your dependency on him. Plan your work so that you can proceed/work without him as far as possible. Don't give him critical tasks if you can avoid it.
  • Clearly write down what you expect of him, which of your work depends on his work, by when you need it done - and remind him of it several times so that he can't claim he didn't know he had to do this. You could use an issue tracker - because knowing how to use one is always useful for people doing software projects. Should your teacher ask you "Well, why wasn't xyz done?" you can point to the issue tracker and say "Frankly, I don't know. We created this issue 2 months ago and assigned it to Bob and reminded him 3 times - but he didn't deliver. Bob'll have to answer this." or "Well, it has a dependency on ABC; ABC was due 2 months ago but wasn't delivered until 1 week ago - so we weren't able to complete xyz. You'll have to ask Bob about ABC."
  • In your weekly meetings, write brief minutes on what got done, what got delayed, what obstacles there are, and what everyone has to do in the next week. Distribute and get (at least) all other 4 team members to read and acknowledge them. (In short: document the hell out of the situation.)
  • Inform Bob (e.g. in an email) that he needs to deliver because you won't be able to cover for him in school. The teacher will notice that things are missing and you won't lie about why they are missing.
  • When you give your presentation on the project (assuming there is one), identify at the beginning who worked on what. "Thomas did the GUI design, Anna did the database backend, Emily wrote the business logic, Bob was responsible for implementing the XYZ, and I worked on the ABC." The more clearly you can separate Bob's responsibilities the better - because if the XYZ is shit it falls back on Bob.
  • Consider it a life lesson on the importance of carefully selecting your business partners, of paying attention to their reputation, and of maintaining a good reputation yourselves.
  • If you ever have to do a software project again, be sure not to end up with Bob in the team ;-)

Clearly, you can only do this if this kind of failure (delivering a not-complete project) is an option.

BTW: In my case, the lazy partners did deliver the absolute minimum to convince the customer in the end, so kind of a happy ending. Possibly they noticed that others weren't picking up their slack.

And consider this: You are 4 people who agree and work fine together and only one asshole - you're quite lucky ;-)

  • 1
    I'd add that this is a life lesson as well. You will regularly run into team members who think that pulling their own weight means finding someone to do their work for them. Allowing the project to fail is an option, but it's a "nuclear option". Whoever led the project is quite often held responsible for its failure, even when the reason for failure can be pointed to one specific party. Given that, expect all members of the project to share in the blame for its failure. – baldPrussian Mar 27 '18 at 13:30
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    @baldPrussian This solution certainly is nuclear - hence the hint to try everything else first. The project lead should be held responsible - but if you give them no real power, you're setting them up to fail. If the team members can't fire their collague if he doesn't deliver they have no official power. That's why I hate badly run team exercises in uni and school - they don't usefully simulate the real world. – AllTheKingsHorses Mar 27 '18 at 13:50
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My guess is that his behaviour is due to lack of knowledge. He is willing to be part of the team project, and takes on work, but is out of his depth in terms of how to do his tasks. He also doesn't know how to ask for help, as that would make it seem like he wasn't smart enough to be on the team. Hence, he keeps stalling for time, hoping that a little more time will help him figure out what has to be done, and he somehow manages to deliver something (albeit late).

Him delivering something "that only he can understand" could actually be a case of him delivering something that even he cannot understand.

Even if you are not currently on a critical timeline, his tasks will continue to be delayed, and most probably will still be unfinished when the project deadline arrives. If his tasks are essential to the proper functioning of the project as a whole, then either the project will not be fully completed, or you and the rest of the team will be forced to work overtime just before the deadline, to compensate for his unfinished work.

There are a couple of solutions, as I see it.

  • Approach him and make him aware that the team is there to help each other, and if he is stuck, or out of his depth, that others in the team can help. Maybe even suggest that he gets a lighter workload (if you and the rest of the team members agree). The point with the lighter workload being that if he can deliver a smaller part on time, then you are better off as a team than if he consistently delivers late.

  • Discuss the possibility of the rest of the team taking on a part of his tasks. That way you are effectively finishing the project minus one member, which may or may not be an issue for the school. However, you would be able to ensure that the team can finish the project on time, and then deal with his non-participation afterwards.

The advantage with the first approach is that he may even start to become more productive once he realises that it is okay to not know everything, and it is okay to ask for help. In addition, the current team tension may dissipate altogether.

EDIT

Based on the additional information in the question:

I am preferably looking for a solution to raise his overall participation in the project (work delivered as well as Discord chat)

This is obviously commendable, and the right outlook. Since physical meetings are not viable, you need something different to get him more involved. Something like making him more responsible for delivering the project on time. It is possible that he isn't as motivated to deliver his tasks as promised, because there is still plenty of time, and someone else (you?) is managing the project and the meetings.

Why not rotate the responsibility for the weekly meetings, and for making sure that everyone is completing their tasks on time? If he is given more responsibility, and hence, more ownership of the project outcome, it might make him more motivated to pull his weight.

  • Interesting approach, yet he is actually the one with the most knowledge in the programming language. He selected that specific taks by himself, because he could just take some code from his work and take out some things. This is not a task which takes several days to complete. Until yesterday, we were working as if he wouldn't deliver at all, meaning we already were on the path to cover up his work. – XtremeBaumer Mar 27 '18 at 12:40
  • @XtremeBaumer Hmm... he could just take some code from his work... This approach sounds good, but it never works the way it is intended to. However, maybe he is just a habitual procrastinator, and then forcing or confronting him may not have any effect at all. What about meeting up physically once a week? Online meetings (no matter how regular) are a great enabler for procrastinators... – Peter Abolins Mar 27 '18 at 12:51
  • Physical meetings are not possible. We are all living in different cities as well as we are working until 6 pm. Also nobody would want to host it. If we were all living in the same city, then I would have suggest the physical meeting right away, but with these circumstances, I can be happy to have a weekly online meeting – XtremeBaumer Mar 27 '18 at 12:55
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First of all, you cannot "force" anyone to do anything they do not want to do; you can only really state your expectations of them and incentivise it - which doesn't have to be a reward, it can be avoidance of bad consequences.

Presumably he doesn't want to flunk school, so he needs to be made to understand that his non-cooperation in this task may ultimately lead to that.

Whenever you confront somebody about their behaviour/performance you should deal in facts, not generalisations. Don't just tell him that he is letting the team down - arm yourself with specific details about his missed deadlines. Be clear about his failures and the consequences. He may think that the rest of the team wont allow themselves to fail at the group project and that if he doesn't help then the rest of the team will just cover the work. I presume that this is not acceptable to you either.

What was the scope of your project assignment? Some team projects are as much about learning to work as a team as they are about the result itself. If this is the case then your tutor may expect you to handle situations like this as a team.

If you will have an opportunity to speak to your tutor again before the final deadline, then they may be able to intervene on your behalf, and this could bypass the interpersonal solution. Alternatively, you can use this in your argument with your non-performing team mate by telling him that you will take the matter to your tutor.

Should you confront him make sure:

  • You are in possession of all the facts about his lack of performance, any input from your tutor (if available) and details of what will happen if he does not cooperate.
  • Approach him privately rather than as a group, as this is likely to get the best results and give you the most frank discussion.
  • Speak in specific terms rather than simply saying his performance is poor in general.
  • Be firm in your stance and clear about any consequences, but don't get angry - this rarely achieves results.
  • Thanks for your answer. The problem is, as stated in the question as well as a comment, that we can't contact the teacher. Because of this, we are not really able to threaten with any consequences. Also its hard to approach him in any way, since he ignores what we write. He mostly shows up for the group calls and thats it – XtremeBaumer Mar 27 '18 at 10:48
  • @XtremeBaumer I see you added that in your last edit. I think my answer covers all possibilities, the main drive is that you get as much info as you can before you speak to him. I imagine that ultimately you will be able to speak to your teacher, and that in itself could be used to cajole him. I will tweak my answer slightly. – Astralbee Mar 27 '18 at 11:20
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A job forces people to produce by, in the end, withholding something that the team member wants - pay. (If you don't produce, you get fired and therefore don't get paid). Team school projects don't really have that club. What you do have, however, is the grade.

I'd suggest taking a two-step approach. The first step is to discuss the matter with the other teammates to make sure that you're all on the same page. After ensuring that you as a group agree to do this, take the second step and lay it out. Tell him:

  1. You're unhappy with his productivity
  2. He's missed deadlines and deliverables with no notice or explanation
  3. If this keeps up, the team will adjust the project to not need his input
  4. The project will be turned in and the instructor will be informed that you as a group "fired" him from the project
  5. You as a team need to see immediate improvement in these areas

As long as you're up front with him about the action being taken and when the deadline for change is, he really can't legitimately complain about your use of the nuclear option. This is also a lesson in the workplace - you will continually run into people like this. You'll need a plan to deal with this throughout your work life; this is no different.

0

Speaking practically, you cannot force the teammate to do anything. Ultimately, your team is responsible for a product/output, and if it fails, then you all fail. If you know that you cannot depend on a lazy team member, then you can adapt by picking up that slack. That's more work for you and the other team members, but you don't have a better choice if you really care about producing the best product that you can. Furthermore, the effort, time, and stress wasted on pushing a boulder up a hill is better spent on the product, because then you might produce something. Pushing a boulder uphill is Sysiphusian. In a nutshell, proceed as a group and proceed as if lazy-guy is not involved (he's dragging you down like an anchor, so cut the dead weight and move faster).

The above is the practical solution to finishing your assignment to the best of your ability. Now, the next problem is whether he will be a free-rider (get a good mark/score for doing very little), or whether your team makes the decision to officially kick him out of the group. Even if you don't have that authority, it is up to you which names go on the project. If you decide to kick him out, then be prepared to scrupulously defend that position with documented evidence, and consider that the teacher might view this outcome as a failure of the entire team, so this approach is not without risk.

In my experience, every team project, whether in grade school, college, grad school, or in the real world, all have the same problems. There's always at least one slacker, and often you don't have an authority figure that you can take this problem to that won't backfire in some way. So, for me, I make sure that I am never that slacker, and I'm prepared to do the whole thing myself unless I am pleasantly surprised that there's another teammate who takes this seriously. Those "serious" teammates are gold, and make the project a good experience. All these years later, they're the ones I remember. Focus on them, forget the lazy guy.

Edit: Consider how things will probably play out if you could force lazy-guy to act the way you want. Do people in that position often feel humbled and decide to pick up their game and prove everyone wrong? Or do most people get defensive and seek petty revenge? Will you be able to trust the work product that the now-besmirched guy will produce? Will it take more effort to uncover any software bugs that he might maliciously hide just to "teach you a lesson"? It's unlikely that a scenario exists where this all ends with everyone happy, so seek to maximize the good, rather than eliminating the bad.

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