Lazy Team Members: Useful Tips For BOTH Sides (Part 2)

Part 1 of my Lazy Team Members blog post covered some common legitimate reasons for lazy team members, solutions for those reasons, and how to work with genuinely lazy team members. Part 2 is going to cover team mates who just aren’t competent enough to contribute. And unlike many other lazy team member guide out there, I’m going to give tips to those of you who ARE lazy team members.


Lazy Team Members Might Not Be COMPETENT Enough

My roommate back in college was assigned to an eight-person Capstone team with scarily incompetent members. Let’s call him Jared. Everyone on the team were final semester seniors. They were all about to graduate, they’ve all had at least one internship, and they’ve completed at the very least a handful of projects.


The electrical engineering majors couldn’t design circuits. Circuits that someone whose completed high school physics and has internet access could be expected to design. One of them even openly apologized to Jared for being so incompetent. No one else on the team was completing required assignments on time. They actually blamed Jared for this.


I mean, it’s one thing to be incompetent and lazy. It’s another to blame other people for it.


Basically, Jared was the only one actually working on the project, and the other team members were his assistants and unpaid interns. By the way, completing your Capstone project is a REQUIREMENT to graduate. The school will literally never give you your degree until you finish.


In this case, I don’t recommend doing all the work like Jared. You should aim to be more of a mentor/teacher. You should teach your other team members through hands-on lessons that bring the project closer to completion. Teach things on a problem to problem basis and make things as simple as possible. So for Jared’s electrical engineering teammates, you have them sketch a circuit, then help them when the get stuck. You tell them to include a battery, you go over Ohm’s Law and current/resistance requirements, you tell them to put in resistors, capacitors, etc.


Do this for as long as possible. Once you get close to the deadline, THEN start doing most of the work yourself and reserve the non-technical work like writing reports to your other teammates. Your teammates hopefully made some project progress, so all you’ll need to do is finish up.


With this method, you don’t feel like you’re doing ALL the work like Jared. Your teammates get to contribute, feel useful, and may even learn something. And, the project still gets finished.


You also don’t do as much work, your teammates are able to contribute and learn some valuable hands-on knowledge, and the project still has a fighting chance of being completed before the deadline.


My Tips For Lazy Team Members:


If you’re reason #3:

Great! You may not mean to be lazy, but it’s fine. The project is well on its way to completion. Just don’t piss off your teammates, and you should be fine. And if you DO mean to be lazy, then it looks like you lucked out. You can ride on the coat tails of your superior teammates. You aren’t SEEMINGLY a lazy team member, there’s just nothing for you to do. No one’s going to hate your guts… this time.


If you’re reason #2:

You can try to ask for more time off from your job to focus on school. Your employer will hopefully understand that you have academic obligations. If you have a family emergency or your employer won’t cut you any slack, you’ve got a tough decision to make. On one hand, your college education is an investment in yourself to get you to a good job with good benefits, and ultimately to get you a better life. On the other hand, you need your job to LIVE, or your family needs you. I can’t tell you what you should do. What I can tell you is to keep your other team members posted on your situation. For family obligations, you don’t need to go into details if you don’t feel comfortable.


If you’re reason #1:

You NEED to communicate with your team members and your supervisor/professor as soon as you’re able. Let them know that you’re indisposed for medical reasons. I would also recommend opting out of working on the project while indisposed. It feels like you’re abandoning your responsibilities, but you won’t be able to work at your best no matter how hard you try. You need to decide if you can continue working on the project, but not be at your best and risk getting sicker, or if you need to focus on getting better and officially opt out.


If you’re not competent enough:

If there’s that one competent team member in your group (let’s call him Mr. Awesome), you need to sit him down and talk to him. Straight out admit that you know you’re not competent, and that you won’t be able to do much. I know you may not want to admit your shortcomings, especially to strangers, but acknowledging and understanding your limitations is the first step to surpassing them.


But, don’t use this as an excuse to be a load. Tell Mr. Awesome that you still want to do everything you can to help them, then do that. Whatever you get assigned to do, do your best and do it promptly. This honesty, humility and willingness to help will at the very least make Mr. Awesome more willing to do most of the work.


Also, try to get Mr. Awesome to mostly act as a teacher/coach. Tell him that you’re willing to do most of the work, but you need help and guidance from him. If he agrees to this, you’ll have the chance to pull your own weight and be useful, and you’ll learn a lot of hands-on skills so that you can be more competent the next time you’re in a group. And Mr. Awesome doesn’t have to as much work as he normally would have, and he gets the chance to stroke his ego by lording his superior intellect and skills over you. This should actually be your main selling point for convincing him to do this.


Once the deadline gets closer, Mr. Awesome will most likely need to take over and finish the rest of the project. But since you were able to make a lot of progress on the project, he shouldn’t have to do very much to finish up.


That should be your goal: to do as much as possible before he has to take over.


And if you’re just lazy:

I’m not going to tell you that you suck, and I’m not going to shame you for being irresponsible or selfish. If you had a dime for every time you’ve heard that spiel, you could buy out Microsoft by now. I WILL tell you 2 things:


1. You’re basically putting your grade/career into other people’s hands. You need your teammates to be competent enough to finish your project short-handed AND be willing to let you essentially exploit them. You’re putting your future into the hands of other people who probably hate your guts and want to see bad things happen to you. Is that really a good idea?


2. You’re creating bad habits for yourself. How you do any one thing is how you’ll do everything else. If you’re lazy in groups, you’ll be lazy doing everything else. YOU CAN’T SWITCH THIS ON AND OFF. You may tell yourself that you’re only lazy now, and that you can start putting in effort anytime. That’s not true. You’ll be just as lazy and ineffective as you are working in groups. You won’t be able to accomplish any of the things you set out to do or live the life you want to live.


Deep down, you know this is true. You may absolutely hate me for pointing out this inconvenient fact. But hating me won’t change a thing. You’re still putting your fate into the hands of people who hate you. You’re still shooting yourself in the foot by being lazy. You can pout and call me every curse word in the English language, or you can start pulling your own weight when working in groups, start taking control of your destiny, and ultimately pave the way to success and the life you want to live.


Final Words

Lazy team members present a challenge. You have a team-based project, but you’re short-handed. A lesser man would throw in the towel. Instead, you’re going to take whichever team members are standing with you and lead them to project completion.


Your mindset can make or break you, lazy team members or not. Don’t get bitter and angry. Don’t start feeling sorry for yourself and complain to your friends. Have the mindset that the project will get done. There is no failure. And none of that defeatist “or I’ll die trying.” No. You’re gonna live, and the project will be done.


And if you’re a lazy team member, I want to really think about what I’ve written in the previous section. Don’t work because it’s the right thing to do, or for your teammates. Do it because you’re setting yourself up for failure and unhappiness otherwise.


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All the best,



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