How to Deal With Difficult Group Members
Uncooperative group members can be a real headache as what they do (or don’t do) can affect your grades. Find out how you can survive these difficult people in university.
Updated 16 May 2019
The chances of you escaping group projects in university are slim to none. A popular form of assessment, group projects are pertinent in building vital transferable skills that will be valuable to you.
However, group dynamics can be complicated due to different personalities and styles of work. And in every group project, there will be at least one undesirable member. The ones who, for reasons that will exasperate you, just won’t pull their weight.
But since you will be evaluated as a group, and you definitely do not want to be dragged down due to their negligence or laziness, what do you do? How do you survive these difficult group members?
Worry not friends, for here are some tips for you.
#1. Identify the undesirable members in your group
Right from the get-go, it’s important for you to spot any red flags among your group members. They may be cleverly masked by smiles, but be particularly wary of these types of members:
(a) The Invisible One
You’ve never seen this person before although your lecturer swears this person is enrolled in the class. They are the type to reply ambiguously to your invitation to group discussions and more likely than not, they will skip them anyway.
(b) The Silent One
This person will show up during discussions but won’t contribute in a substantial manner. They’re the freeloaders, hoping to ride in on other people’s efforts and ideas and do the minimum required amount of work.
(c) The Procrastinator
This team member will seem cooperative and willing to take on responsibilities, but do not be fooled. When the time comes for them to deliver, they never do. They will wait until the very last minute to complete everything, and this may cause a dent in the quality of work, not to mention a delay to the team’s progress.
#2. Immediately take the lead
Once you’ve identified the troublemakers, promptly assume the role of leader. Be the one who has an assertive voice and takes charge.
The reason for this is not because you crave power or want to boss everyone around; rather, it is so that you can ensure everyone pulls their weight and owns up to their responsibilities in the project. If you don’t, the team will fall into disarray.
As scary as it may sound, it is better than having a disorganised group.
#3. Plan ahead
How do you ensure your group project comes out on top? Have a detailed plan. Figure out what needs to be done and create a timeline of when everything should be completed. This guarantees everyone’s participation.
Even if someone is slacking, you can detect it early on instead of discovering incomplete or poor quality work at the very last minute, which may result in you having to do their part.
In your plan, consider Murphy’s law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. For every target or goal, put the deadline ahead of schedule. This allows for enough time so that if one person doesn’t meet the deadline, you can still address the problem.
#4. Set ground rules
Setting rules at the beginning help to set the tone of the group and avoid conflicts as the project progresses.
For instance, have a clear plan of what the consequences will be if someone misses their deadline. Agree on the quality of work that needs to be delivered, because you might be striving for an A while others may just want a pass.
Make sure all group decisions are transparent and communicated clearly, especially to the difficult group members. While it may be tempting to complain and talk behind the person’s back, they have a right to know what is going on as well.
#5. Document communication
You may think this is tedious, but it is important to keep a record of what has been discussed.
Send meeting notes after every group meeting to summarise your discussion and who is responsible for what tasks. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page and that there is no misunderstanding. You will be surprised how often things get misinterpreted despite everyone attending the same meeting.
#6. Talk it out
If your group member becomes too much to handle, it is fitting for you to speak directly to the person, especially if you are the group leader.
This is not to say that you should have an over-the-top intervention; rather, you should try to solve the problem through effective communication. Tell them that their behaviour is causing disruptions in the group and suggest actions that they can take to improve the situation.
Remember to stay calm and avoid being accusatory or aggressive. With luck, the person will heed your words and change for the better.
#7. Go to the professor
If all else fails, you may have no choice but to speak to your lecturer.
Explain to your lecturer the predicament your group is facing and provide hard evidence. This is when the documented communication will come in handy. By voicing out your group’s problem, you may be able to reduce the negative impact on your group’s grade.
You might fear appearing as the bad person if you spill on your groupmates. But remember, it’s not about whether you’re nice or not; it’s whether you’ve done the right thing.
Be warned though — only resort to this after you’ve exhausted all other means.
Uncooperative group members do not have to be your downfall. Follow these tips and you’ll be one step closer to securing those As.