Group projects: the bane of every student’s existence because you always knew that at least one person wouldn’t do their fair share of the work.
Fast forward to now: all those who never learned how to pull their own weight in group projects are adults, and some of them are working on your team.
So how do you deal with someone who is not pulling their weight when you can’t actually see what they’re doing?
Understand the Reasons Why Someone Isn’t Doing Their Fair Share
There can be a wide variety of reasons as to why someone isn’t completing their fair share of the work:
- That person is unprepared for the job
- The expectations are not clear
- They don’t spend the adequate amount of time or resources in order to complete a task
- Lack of communication
Even though this individual’s subpar performance may not be because of anything you did, it does mean that it affects you, the team, and the company. It’s not good for anyone if everyone isn’t doing their fair share of the work. That means that it is most certainly your problem, so it’s in your best interest to do what you can as appropriate. (As appropriate means following the correct channels of communication to make sure that the problem is addressed according to company policy. If you don’t know what that policy is—ask!)
Talk to the person directly
Use best practices in confronting someone in a professional (or any, really) environment, including using I-statements, refraining from putting the blame on anyone, and asking if you can provide support in any way. In many cases this individual might just be confused about the expectations or there has been a miscommunication, which can easily be solved by a direct conversation. Since the end goal is for this team member to contribute to the team’s work, if you can solve the problem by speaking with the individual directly, you’ve saved a lot of time and energy for the whole team.
Report your concerns to your superior
Make sure you document specific reasons why the team member in questions performance is substandard. Be as specific as possible. This means including emails, any feedback you’ve given, screenshots, or other concrete documentation you can provide to demonstrate poor performance. Follow the protocol established by your team or organization to present this information to your superior. If you’re a leader receiving this feedback, be sure you’re prepared as to how to manage the concerns and potential conflict.
See what you can do to help your team member
Again, since it’s your problem no matter whose fault it is, you share some of the responsibility for helping your team member perform to the best of their ability. Determine some practices that you can employ to address the situation. Examples include adopting a clear format for all email communication, following up on a regular schedule, and providing clear and honest feedback. You should also address problems immediately and contribute to an environment that fosters transparency.
Help establish clear expectations
Do your part to make sure that your entire team understands what “fair share” means for everyone. If this means initiating a group-wide discussion on setting and meeting expectations, then do it.
When you work online it can be challenging to do all this in a natural, non-confrontational way. Try the following:
- Request a one-on-one video chat to catch up and discuss your concerns
- Use your company’s preferred communication channels to provide clear and complete feedback (Note: do you have a company Communication Charter?)
- Don’t be afraid to speak up about what you need and what is keeping you from getting your work done
- Use checklists, proofs, or other virtual methods of controlling performance
- Instead of focusing on time spent on a project, make sure the emphasis is on achieving goals; for those goals, have a clear system in place to track progress
It often boils down to one simple thing: Communication
Unmet expectations often boil down to one type of problem: lack of sufficient communication. It can be all too easy — especially in remote teams — to drop the ball when it comes to communication. Every team member should strive to make all their communication direct, honest, continual, consistent, and fair. There are many strategies for improving this skill (check out this article on how communication drives performance).
Chances are good that if there is a problem with one person, there are problems with others. Provide tools and resources to your fellow team members that you think will help.
Everyone benefits when everyone is pulling their weight. Make sure you’re doing your part to ensure that the team is functioning at its most productive level. This is as good for you as it is for that other person and the company itself!
Teams seeking to ensure that all team members are equipped with the skills and processes to contribute their fair share to the work, must consider remote skill development and communication alignment.