The sign knows everything about slackers. Arggggghhhh!!!!!!

(A one-line write-in from a student… Does this problem ever go away in life? No! The slacking group member is a plague! Students feel helpless and concerned about grades, and they may wonder when to bring a prof in on the problem. Here’s my take…)


How do you work with a group member who does not put in their work on a group project?



I realize the student didn’t ask for all the advice I’m giving, but I’m giving it anyway. What do you say???


I so empathize! As a student, I couldn’t stand group work because I knew I would probably have to manage or do most of it so my own grade wouldn’t tank.

Can I be honest? Even as a professional, I still become a little anxious with group work. Let’s face it: Not everyone has the same work ethic. You can hope for everyone to step up, but as you are experiencing, some people don’t. This is a classic complaint for students. I have abandoned group work in my classes with any sort of high stakes, unless I am teaching a group communication course.

On to you: What do you do with that slacker in your group?

My first recommendation is don’t go to your prof immediately, but I will tell you in a minute when it is time to do that.

I bet your assignment is well underway. If the assignment was just starting–and since it has–this would be my strategy:

-Immediately take the lead (Not a dictatorial lead… just assertively take charge of making suggestions…) and ensure that every person ‘owns’ and recaps their deliverables, including a date for each deliverable (this can be a collaborative discussion–I’ll explain below);
-Build in enough time so if each person doesn’t meet the deadline, you can address the problem;
-Assign another group member in place to pick up unfinished work, if necessary.
-Assign yourself or a second person as “quality control” to make sure the work is completed on time and up to standards.

Bring your group together now and say that it’s time to “regroup.” You need all members there to re-establish everyone’s deliverables and the dates: “We agreed that Nyara would have X done by Monday evening and Mike would have X done by Wednesday, and I will update where we are on Thursday.”

Have a clear-cut plan of action if someone misses their deliverable with the majority of your group in agreement. Say, “Given that we only have a week (two weeks… whatever) to pull all this together, if one of us misses a deadline, they’ll get one reminder (because remember–you’ll be building in your dates with some buffer room!). Who will step in to take over that job?” Make sure that person is ready to move quickly.

Remember, too, that everyone needs to be in specific agreement about expected quality of work. Is everyone striving for an ‘A’? What does ‘A’ work look like? Underperforming can be as bad as not performing.

While you’re in the discussion about dates and work, have a mechanism so everyone knows what will happen if they don’t step up. I recommend a group evaluation, whether or not one was required. Say, “If someone needs to take over someone else’s work, I suggest we submit a group evaluation along with this project.”

I don’t suggest a huge intervention with the slacker. You can try one private conversation to be diplomatic: “The group is concerned about you. Is there something going on that is preventing you from getting this work done?” But the bottom line is, regardless of this person’s answer, the work needs to be done. If they have a genuine life issue, they need to work with the professor on that. If they are just slacking, then you won’t have time for empty promises and more delay.

More on the evaluation: Sometimes, group projects come with guidance for an initial group contract, self-evaluation of your performance, or peer-evaluation of the group performance. These tools are critical for establishing expectations and roles. If you are not explicitly told to turn in some sort of evaluation, I would turn one in anyway. A grade is at stake here. It is not fair for everyone to receive the same grade if only three of four people carried the work–unless everyone agrees to that, of course.

I may be in the minority on this thought, but in a short-term situation, like a class, you should not be forced to carry someone else’s weight at the expense of your grade. I totally get the argument that these projects prepare you for real life, but in business, someone not doing their share of the work would have harsh ramifications and you’d have longer to deal with the issue. Also, drama takes energy and time, and a quarter or semester is finite.

Make sure all group decisions are transparent–and this includes to the slacking group member. It is tempting to split off, talk behind that person’s back, and take over, but the slacker should know what’s going on. He/she may need to speak to events in the group with the prof.

Finally, let’s talk about your communication with the professor: I always recommend that students try to solve the problems first in the group. Leave the prof out of it, unless the circumstance is dangerous or extreme. But upon completion, I would make an appointment with the prof and say, “I just wanted to let you know that in my group, we had some issues. We established clear tasks and deadlines, but we needed to reorganize our group members’ responsibilities in a few places to get the work done. We were able to solve the problems, but would like to submit a formal group evaluation.”

Your prof will read between the lines that you’re looking for fairness, and if he/she has questions, you’ll hear them. You don’t have to say “…so you FAIL the slacker’s ass and we all get A’s!”

I can’t emphasize enough not to waste your time with drama. Keep everything ‘business’ as much as you can. The slacker will learn soon enough that working this way just doesn’t work. Hopefully your prof will make things equitable.

Good luck and let me know if I can help further!

What advice do you have? Colleagues, how do you mitigate these types of situations?