Ask the Ethics Officer: Pulling Your Own Weight

Dear Ethics Officer,

I have a group member who does not pull their weight, yet their name ends up on all group assignments. I want to learn to address this situation without conflict, so I know how to deal with it in the 'real world.'  Where should I draw the line between understanding that there might be other things happening in their life that affect their group participation, and confronting them and learning how to hold others accountable for their share of the work?

Pulling all of the weight
Dear Pulling all of the weight,

Teams can accomplish tasks that individuals alone cannot, which is why teams are used at school and work. Unfortunately, teams can also be very dysfunctional. Things happen in individuals’ lives that sometimes take them away from doing their best work in the team setting; however, they have an obligation to the team and the work that you are doing together.

One way to handle this situation is to discuss expectations before you start working together. Standards for a team need to be set immediately so that everyone understands the informal contract that they are under. This ‘contract’ defines the amount of work that is fair to each person and no one person should get more or less of the work. Once expectations aren’t met, you should have an open conversation that focuses on the work, not the individual. Reference the standards that you originally set and explain to them that you expect them to complete the work that was originally agreed upon.

Often in teams in the ‘real world’ you will not have any position power over a person, so discussing standards before beginning a project will help to keep your team on track. This discussion will hopefully help avoid any issues but it will also help to make the conversation easier if someone is not performing to expectations. This situation is difficult and may get emotional but the key is to manage the emotions so that the problem is resolved and the relationships on the team are strengthened. Where possible, keep the conversation fact- and problem-based. If you find yourself in the difficult situation where the other person does not respond positively to a frank conversation about performance, allow yourself to accept the situation and move on. That might mean managing the project without this person or a conversation with “the boss” or in this case, the professor. Complaining about the situation or seeking vengeance will only have a negative impact on you. It is also okay to choose to not work on a team with that person again.

Good luck!
Your Chief Ethics Officer

How many of you have been involved with a project (in school or work) in which an individual did not pull his or her weight? Did you confront or ignore it? Did your school experiences help you to deal with the issue at work? Comment below – we’d love to hear your input!

Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is the viewpoint of the author, not necessarily the viewpoint of the University of St. Thomas. All situations can be viewed differently, and the above response is one viewpoint to consider, but does not represent the only viewpoint.