Lazy Team Members: Useful Tips for BOTH Sides (Part 1)

In school and even the professional working world, you’ll end up working with lazy team members. I’ve worked with lazy team members. I’ve heard complaint after complaint from other people about lazy team members. So, I’ve decided to put together a guide to working with them. Part 1 will go over some common legitimate reasons for lazy team members, solutions for those reasons, and how to deal with genuine laziness in both school and professional settings.


If You’re Working With Lazy Team Members:


First, Make Sure It Isn’t Shitty Communication

You should never jump to conclusions about lazy team members. They could be lazy, or they’re just unaware of the work they have to do. Maybe they forgot, or maybe they weren’t told what they have to do in the first place.


Shitty communication is a common issue both in school and in the professional world. To fix this:


Get every team member’s cell phone number. Now, communicating with more than one other person is a huge pain in the ass. You need to send out group messages and messages to individual team member, as well as send texts to everyone when there’s a deadline or meeting coming up. Then, you need to hound every team member to make sure they’re aware of the deadlines, and if one or more people aren’t able to get back to you, you’ll have no way of knowing if they’re aware of the looming deadline.


Instead of going through all that hassle, just use the GroupMe app.


GroupMe To Prevent Lazy Team Members

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GroupMe is free downloadable group messaging app. Create a group with you and every team member by using their cell phone numbers. You can send messages to one or more members of your team at once. You can also schedule deadlines and events, and the app sends out an RSVP message to every team member. The app is included on both iOS and Android, and it should be able to work cross-platform.


After making a group with every team member included, make sure everyone downloads the app and turns on the notifications for the app in the Settings. Make sure all your team members know how to use the app. It’s very intuitive, but it’s worth making sure anyway. And make sure that they’re successfully notified of texts and events.


Once when I had just downloaded and started using the app for the first time, I didn’t have my notifications activated and I missed a team meeting. Another time, my lab group members didn’t have their GroupMe notifications activated and missed all the messages I sent them about lab report section assignments. They just happened to check their GroupMe messages to see what they hell was going on with our report the day before it was due, and we had a mad scramble to finish everything. The other members were writing their sections within the span of a few hours, and I edited and put the entire report together less than an hour before we had to hand it in.


Also, your group should be using some kind of file sharing system that allows everyone to work on the same document. There are a lot of different group file sharing systems out there. Google Drive is free and gets the job done well enough. A single team member can create a folder, put all related documents and files in that folder, and share access to it with every other team member, similarly to GroupMe.


You can create documents and presentations directly on Google Drive. You can also upload Microsoft Office files like Word documents and PowerPoint presentations onto Google Drive. Google Drive also keeps track of changes and revisions for a particular document, so you can undo any mistakes that a team member makes.


Create a folder in Google Drive for all your team’s files, make sure everyone has a Google account, and make sure everyone is given full access to the folder.


Some Other Legitimate Reasons

The lazy team members may not be ABLE to contribute and pull their own weight. Reach out to them in a friendly way to find out what’s going on with them.


Reason #1: They could have an illness, injury, or other medical condition.

I had a “friend” (He hung out with one of my friends, but I didn’t actually like him.) who was working on an air conditioner project. One of his team members was pregnant and went into labor near the end of the semester before the project was done.


Once, I was part of a three-person lab group. One of my group members fell off a second-floor balcony. She was all right, but she was hospitalized and bed-ridden for the rest of the semester.


Reason 2: Work or Family Obligations.

To be completely honest, none of the lazy team members I’ve dealt with every had too many work or family obligations that prevented them from contributing. But, it’s still a possibility.


Reason #3: There May Literally Be Nothing For Them To Do

Believe or not, this CAN happen. I’ve seen it happen.


On my eight-person Capstone group, everyone was an extremely competent, top-tier engineering student. They all made the Dean’s Honor List multiple times, had extensive internship experience, and they all had full-time jobs lined up before graduating. Throughout the semester, there were really only five people who were doing anything. One group member was contributing so little (which wasn’t her fault AT ALL), our supervisor had to talk to her personally to try find SOMETHING for her to do.


My role amounted to some research for what kind of motor to get, which I worked with someone else on, and building a demonstration aid for our project.



The first two reasons go back to shitty communication. If your team members are neglecting to let you know what’s going on with them, you need to reach out to them to find out. Remember, you want to complete the project well, and you need to cooperate and work with your team to do that.


And sometimes, shit just happens. In the first two cases, your team members can’t contribute, so the burden of the work has to fall on you and whichever team members are able to actively contribute. Both in school and in the professional world, no one, supervisors, professors, customers, cares if you’re short-handed. The ONLY thing that matters is that you get the project done. It sucks, but deep down you know this is true. You’re only shooting yourself in the foot if you get angry and bitter about it.


Reason #3 isn’t even a problem. You actually have more than enough team members to complete the project. So if some unexpected shit happens and the main contributors aren’t able to shoulder the weight, you’ve got backup teammates to bring in. And in my Capstone team, everyone still worked on design reports and presentations. You’ll find something for your extra teammates to do.


If It Turns Out They Really Are Just Lazy…

After doing your due diligence, it’s possible that it’s none of the above reasons. Sometimes you just have a lazy team member on your hands. There’s work you need them to do, and they just aren’t doing it well enough and/or promptly enough. They’re not sick, they aren’t working, and they don’t have some unexpected family emergency happening.


In this case, you need to decide if it’s something you can honestly tolerate. In my view, people who complain about lazy team members are frustrated, but their lack of action more or less implies a willingness to tolerate the situation. As soon as you know you’re working with lazy team members, you need to decide if it’s something you’re going to do something about, or if you can tolerate it and do most of the work yourself.


If you decide this is something you can’t tolerate, take action. Don’t bottle up your frustration and resentment by doing nothing. Here’s my recommendations:


First, try to fix this problem on your own before getting your supervisor/professor involved. Confront each of your lazy team members individually. If possible, get your non-lazy team members to help you.


Begin by listing the facts: Team member Fuck-face McAsshole-Licker hasn’t been showing up to the team meetings. He doesn’t respond to GroupMe messages. He never does the work he’s supposed to do. Etc.


Next, paraphrase these two phrases:


  1. “The work is intense, and I’m/We’re having a lot of trouble getting everything done. We need your help Fuck-face.”
  2. “I know you won’t let us fail. I know you want to finish this/get a good grade as much as we do. So, what do you say?”


The first phrase gives Fuck-face a sense of importance. The rest of the team needs him to get the project done, and this will tickle his ego. The second phrase builds up his sense of importance even more by giving him a great reputation to live up to. Fuck-face starts to believe he’s not someone who would let his team down. He’s someone who wants to succeed.


If Fuck-face brings up other lazy team members, say that you’re concerned with Fuck-face right now. Don’t let him change the subject.


…if that doesn’t work, then go talk to your professor/supervisor.

For college students:

I’m not going to lie, there’s a chance your professor won’t actually do anything to help you, like grading each member of your group based on their contribution. From my experience, the jaded, burnt out professors, usually the older ones, are more likely to not try anything. The younger ones were in your shoes not too long ago. They’re more likely to relate to your situation and help you. Anyway, here are tips for talking to your professor:


First, do this as early as possible. If you tell your professor a day or two days before the project deadline, it’s going to look like your team just fucked up and are making up excuses.


Second, list the ways Fuck-face hasn’t been pulling his weight. Then, tell your professor that you and your team tried to talk to him to get him to contribute, but he wouldn’t listen. The most important thing is to not sound accusatory or whiny. You’ll only shoot yourself in the foot if you do this.


For working professionals:

The professional world is much more results-oriented and unforgiving compared with school. So, talking to your supervisor/manager/executive is much trickier and harder to pull off. You need to decide if it’s worth going for it.


Similarly to students, do this as early as possible. Don’t name any of your lazy team members, don’t complain or point any fingers. You’ll basically be making an ass out of yourself and hurting your case.  Remember, you’re a professional. Instead, say that the project has hit a lot of unexpected hurdles. The team may not be able to meet the project deadline, but you’re all committed to finishing it as promptly as possible.


Overall, this really is something you should treat as a last resort. You need to at least try to fix the problem on your own before seeking help. If you go to your professor before trying this process, you’ll come off as a tattle tale. Your credibility will diminish in your professor’s eyes. Working professionals are pulling a Hail Mary by doing this.


That’s Part 1. Part 2 will go over lazy team members who aren’t competent enough to pull their weight, and my advice to lazy team members.

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