Q: Every time I’m assigned a group project, there’s one person in the group who refuses to pull their own weight. I don’t want to get a bad grade, but I also don’t want to be the one to cover for someone else. What should I do?
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A: I hate to tell you this, but group projects are a sneak preview of professional life. Those lazy group members will show up later too. They’ll be your colleagues, co-chairs of charitable events, and sometimes even your boss. No matter your field, you’re going to run into people who have no shame coasting while others pick up their slack.
It’s not fair. It absolutely isn’t. And it isn’t fair that you’re in a group with someone who doesn’t do any work but will benefit from yours. But if you and your other group members are unable to motivate that person, you may have to just suck it up and do what needs to be done.
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Try first to divvy the project into very specific individual tasks. If this person knows that they are responsible for something concrete, they may spring into action. If that doesn’t work, approach the lazy member as a united front. In a group meeting or email, tell them that you’re all relying on them to participate. And that the work will go faster and be more fun if you really collaborate. Maybe they thought none of you noticed that they weren’t doing what they were supposed to. Politely but firmly calling them out on it might do the trick.
Or it won’t. And if it doesn’t, you’ll save the day by making those slides or writing those paragraphs. You know you will. You could look at it like you’re being taken advantage of for your sense of responsibility. Or you could think of it this way: you’re the opposite of the lazy group member. You’re the one everyone wants on their team.
If you need advice, ask your question in the comments, and it may be featured in an upcoming column.