University life is a journey where one learns valuable lessons for both the career front and on a personal level. It is a gradual process of discovering life and people around you. Furthermore, it molds you as a person and prepares you for the outside world.
When I look back, I think about the various aspects of student life that have taught me the most valuable lessons. One of them surely is the issue of dealing with difficult team members when we are given projects at university. Group projects are given so that one can learn how to co-ordinate with each other and work towards a common goal and result. This skill is important for our careers as well. However, when projects involve team members who fail to contribute in the project, it can become a nightmare!
Here are some practical suggestions for dealing with difficult team members:
1. Select the right team members
When a project is assigned, be careful when choosing your team members. You need to be a good judge of character and select people who you think will contribute to the project. Do not simply choose your friends as team members for the sake of friendship. Also, choose members who you think you will be comfortable working with. This is a very important aspect in ensuring the success of the team.
When I was a freshman, I remember choosing a team member randomly. While doing the project, I realized that the team member had a laid back attitude towards the project. As a result, I ended up doing the majority of the project. Hence, I learnt an important lesson to always evaluate team members before choosing them.
2. Be a good planner
Divide the project into parts from DAY ONE and make each member responsible for their part. This is because if you need to speak to your professor regarding the difficult team member, you can explain to your professor that each member was responsible for their own part from the beginning and there was ample time for them to complete it.
Also, set reasonable and realistic deadlines and make sure the members agree to it. The deadlines should be set a little before the project. This is because if any member fails to do their part, there would be enough time to work on it yourself or visit the professor to explain the problem.
3. Personally review the project’s progress
Make sure you review the work progress of every member during the project. This will help you understand the pace of the group, and you can easily foresee delays or problems that may crop up.
In one of my projects, one of the members was being irresponsible and kept delaying the deadline by making several excuses. As a result, I gave another part to that team member that she was comfortable in doing. This decision was taken way before the project deadline and we didn’t lose marks because of that setback, saving considerable amount of time and trouble.
4. Be Firm and Bold
It is important to be firm and bold when handling difficult team members or they will easily take advantage of you. They might even take you for granted and make you do their part of the project. You should be strict with such members and tell them to finish their parts at the agreed upon deadline or else you are sure to fall into their trap!
5. Keep Calm and Carry On
It is very important to stay calm even if you feel that the other member is not working sincerely. Make sure that this issue does not take a toll on your health. Remember there are ways to work around it and it’s agroup project and not an individual project. You will be given marks on how you have performed as a group!
In my initial years at university, I remember getting panicky when I had team members who were not serious with their work. I used to worry about the project outcome and as a result, was under a lot of pressure. I even remember waiting at the university for nearly two hours for a team meeting that ultimately did not happen. After this, I decided not to worry because of other members, as I needed to pay attention to my other courses as well.
6. Discuss the matter with the team member first
It is important to first discuss the matter personally with the member who is creating trouble. You should understand their point of view fully before speaking to the professor and see whether matters can be resolved mutually. By speaking to that member, you could get an insight into the problem and see whether that member has a genuine problem or is just making excuses. However, when the member still does not cooperate, then it is best to speak to the professor.
7. Last option: Speak to your professor
If you feel that your team member or members are not doing their part of the project and are not co-operating, you should visit the professor and explain the situation. Do not avoid consulting your professor, for fear that your project would be viewed in a negative light or that he/she might give you less marks. If you speak to your professor and make them aware of the issue you and your team members are facing, they will provide solutions that will help your team perform better. Also, the professor will mark you fairly and will give each member the marks they deserve.
8. ..And do it ASAP
If you go at the last minute, for instance 2 or 3 days before the project deadline, the professor will ask you why you did not bring up the issue earlier. My friends, having faced similar experiences with their teams, often advice others to take action as quickly as possible, and visit the professor beforehand. Hence, if the project is planned from Day 1, there will be enough time to include a visit to the professor much in advance.
Remember, having difficult team members is a serious problem but it can be dealt with if one has the right attitude and a good planning strategy in place. You need to make sure to steer the team in the right direction from the very beginning. However, if the team members still do not co-operate and things turn sour, keep in mind that there will always be a solution and never a dead end!
Be positive and don’t give up. The journey at university has its own share of ups and downs. You will experience some obstacles on the way, but make sure it is a positive experience at the end of the day. You need to learn how to deal with such people and keep learning even more valuable lessons along the way that will help you in life later on. On a final note, I would like to wish all you Undergrads the very best in group projects and to never give up hope even when you have these troublemakers!