team contribution question
December 28, 2013 2:23 PM   Subscribe

Person A has other, more urgent responsibilities while Team wants to get things done. How to compromise?

The situation: Person A is on Team with a few other members, and they have contract for set meeting times. Often, meetings run overtime, or impromptu meetings are necessary. Person A tells Team that they have other matters that are more urgent, but he will be free to work after X days, or can only dedicate a few hours to project if meeting before that. The deadline is not until later, but Team wants things done early so they can get to their other matters. Team has meeting and does work anyway. Person A said ahead of time, that they should leave work for him, and he is willing to contribute in any way, including write-ups and consolidation, but those are frequently finished by the time Person A is available. Team said everything was fine and never brought it up as a problem.

Situation occurs several times, with Person A addressing the fact that there's often nothing left for him to do, and he wants to be a good contributor. No response.

Person A did do a fair share of the work, and was present at all previously agreed upon meetings that were set at the beginning of the project. It's only the overtime and extra meetings that did not fit with his schedule, but team wanted to push ahead.

Come peer-evaluation time, people thought Person A was a low contributor, which admittedly, he was compared to everyone else, because there was never anything left for him to do.This was a group project so it could not have been split up, and the only thing Person could have offered was to put together presentations, write-ups, and consolidation, which he did offer.

What could have been done differently so everyone does their fair share, people, especially higher-ups, doesn't think Person A is a lazy ass, and Person A can still manage his other responsibilities?
posted by ribboncake to Human Relations (20 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's request -- restless_nomad

In this circumstance, does the understanding of teamwork include "I've got your back"? Doesn't sound like it. If the other team members had Person A's back, would he be in this situation? Perhaps some attention to that aspect of teamwork would be helpful moving forward.
posted by elf27 at 3:05 PM on December 28, 2013

Person A could have managed his responsibilities such that he would be able to include the team responsibilities he signed up for.

Seriously it sounds like person A being available only "later" was a constant throughout the project. If he really had a time crunch that only let him work after X days, unless the project was completely done before X days there must have been some work left that person A could have done. Instead the "situation occurred several times" -- which suggests that person A was just perpetually unavailable to do any more than the bare minimum (i.e. show up at meetings).
posted by ook at 3:05 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

(The whole "it's a group project that can't be split up, but save some work for me guys I can do after the fact!" thing seems particularly disingenuous of person A.)
posted by ook at 3:08 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Project was in modules. Yes, everything was completed days ahead of time. This was a long term grad school assignment so other work comes up on a weekly basis, and cannot be done ahead of time, nor could the future modules be done ahead of time. Yes, the profs literally say the almost entire group needs to be there to do each step. The only thing that could be offered was consolidation, writing, and presentation work, but those were also done. Sometimes team scheduled meetings during person A's class time because team wanted to get things done ASAP.
posted by ribboncake at 3:24 PM on December 28, 2013

I think Person A needed to make time to do the project. If scheduling was a routine problem, he needed to tell the rest of the team and then the team should help create a schedule that would work for everyone. Presumably other team members also had other time commitments yet managed to put in the work. Even if Person A was well-intentioned, it sounds like he did not actually do much work compared to the other team members.

I think this statement is kind of the problem: "Person A tells Team that they have other matters that are more urgent, but he will be free to work after X days, or can only dedicate a few hours to project if meeting before that." In my opinion, Person A should have put in those few hours, rather than doing nothing at all for the project while planning to do more hypothetical work later.

(I have extremely low tolerance for people who do everything at the last minute, and I manage to work on school projects while holding down a full-time and freelance jobs, so I am afraid I have little sympathy for Person A.)
posted by mlle valentine at 3:37 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

The problem wasn't contribution, it's more the fact that the team are selfish about their own schedules and want things done early so they can focus on other things due later. However, my schedule was different and didn't jive with others beyond the previously agreed upon times. I didn't offer just consolidation, I did my share of the work but could not attend "extra" meetings because they wanted them early or during my class time, which is why i offered to do my extra work later. They made no mention this was a problem, and I tried to mitigate it several times with no response or "don't worry about it", only to tear me down later.
posted by ribboncake at 3:45 PM on December 28, 2013

I feel like it's kind of on you to propose alternate times if none of the group's times will work for you. If they are really unresponsive, I think unfortunately you will just have to skip another commitment or accept that you will not get a 100% evaluation for participation.
posted by mlle valentine at 3:55 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes I did give alternative times to which they would say , "I want to get this over with early so I can focus on my other class due later." However for me, this WAS the other class due later.
posted by ribboncake at 3:57 PM on December 28, 2013

ribboncake, it sounds like you're really hoping someone will say "those people were unreasonable and they should apologize and give you a good evaluation" and I understand why you feel that way; it sounds like you made a good-faith effort to manage your part of the process and they had different priorities. That said, it's not as simple as "you're right and they're wrong"; you didn't (possibly through no fault of your own!) participate or help to the same extent they did and they are reflecting this in their peer evaluations.

This is basically a really tough situation -- it's not particularly anyone's fault, but there it is. Everyone in college is busy, has competing priorities, different schedules, and it's challenging.

You asked this:

What could have been done differently so everyone does their fair share, people, especially higher-ups, doesn't think Person A is a lazy ass, and Person A can still manage his other responsibilities?

and I'm not sure exactly what the answer is, but perhaps talking to the instructor in tandem with your teammates would have helped. No matter what, don't go behind their backs! That is not helpful! But maybe you could explain the situation and tell them, straight up, "I don't want to be a slacker. This is important to me and I want to contribute. Perhaps we as a group should talk to the professor to make sure that we are managing this appropriately"?

That said, the bottom line is that sometimes, people are bad at being on teams, and circumstances don't line up so that things work out well, and life is just messy. It just happens. It sucks, but it happens. Figure out your top priority -- is it your team liking you? Getting a good grade? The professor understanding that you tried your best? Focus on what matters most to you and do what you can to ensure that outcome.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 4:12 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

By the way, I have low tolerance for people who wave around their busy schedules and say "if I can do it, everyone can". People have no idea what else is going on in others' lives to be able to make that judgement.
posted by ribboncake at 4:12 PM on December 28, 2013

Thanks Mrs.pterodactyl for a thought out response. I am not hoping for one answer in particular and realize its a gray zone, which is why I want to avoid it in the future. However, I felt like I've been getting emotionally charged answers based on peoples' past experience with slackers and I want to explain it's not that simple. I am trying to address it with my team, but since the issue wasn't an issue until after the fact, I can only hope to learn from it.
posted by ribboncake at 4:17 PM on December 28, 2013

I see several ways it could have been handled better. Here is just one random example (right off the cuff):

Let's say the class is a dozen modules (about one a week) and there are four people in the team. On a rotating basis, each team member takes turn being the captain and leads the team through the module. That person is "in charge" and the rest of the team supports their manner of completing the work. When you are the captain, you set meeting times that are reasonable yet suitable to you.

Now if all three of them gang up on you, and do a mono-mind where they always set mandatory meetings at the worst possible time, you would still have 25% of the modules to show what you could do when in charge. If they had refused to rotate the leadership, then that is a clear mitigating factor that could be prominently noted in the professor's evaluation of your teamwork.

So your mistake, in my view, was not insisting to be in charge 25% (or whatever fraction) of the time.
posted by 99percentfake at 4:59 PM on December 28, 2013

Person A needed to be at the meetings, the end. If I'm in a team, I don't want to "leave work behind" for someone who won't be at meetings and isn't involved in all the team's communications. I don't know how big the team is/was, but it sounded like everyone else made sure they were available for meetings. I doubt they all had nothing better to do and Person A was the only one with other stuff going on. Person A should've carved out some time and worked something out with the team. Person A obviously had other priorities, the team knew that and so they didn't give Person A anything important to do. How can you blame them? Why would they trust someone who isn't there when their grade hangs in the balance?

You had the chance to say that unannounced meetings aren't fair to all the team's members, but everyone on the team should do a gchat hangout every Sunday at x time just to make sure everyone is on track, raise any questions, and make sure the next meeting time works. Basically, you said "I can't be around for the meetings but leave me work to do" without being involved in the team decision-making. No shit they think you didn't contribute. That's basically like saying "Figure everything out and then give me some basic task to do once you've figured out what we are doing." And then you expected them to trust you to get in done when you hadn't been around or showed that you care.

Sorry dude, you can get defensive but you really need to look at it from their point of view. Accusing them of being "selfish" seems really unfair and seems to lack any effort to see things from their side.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:15 PM on December 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Person A did do a fair share of the work, and was present at all previously agreed upon meetings that were set at the beginning of the project. It's only the overtime and extra meetings that did not fit with his schedule, but team wanted to push ahead.

This is the part that really resonates with me. Have you read the famous Mefi post: Drivers Licence vs Magnum Opus? The jist is that there are people in grad school who tend to take the "magnum opus" approach, where everything they do is a grand gesture and everything they produce is a masterpiece that is far above and beyond the intent of the original assignment. Then you have the "drivers licence" approach, where due to a lack of time, resources, or desire, a person merely fulfils the assignments as instructed.

Here's the thing, some people have the time and resources to go above and beyond and some don't. This happens in life, business, grad school, everywhere. You were in a position where you could only afford to do drivers licences quality work, and your colleagues seemed to be aiming for magnum opus. Neither of these methods are bad, but they often do conflict.

My advice: whenever I'm in a group where I know that I can only commit to my share of the work, and won't be able to do lots of overtime and extras, I communicate that very clearly in the beginning. "I will be more than happy to do my share, say XYZ, but I won’t have time for anything else. If you guys want to go above and beyond, that's great, but I won't be able to contribute to all the added extras." Communicate with them about what they need you to do very early on, write it down along with the time and date, and do what you're required to do. This way, they know what they can expect from you, and will have agreed upon an amount of work that's fair. This can clear up loads of "why am I the only magnum opus in the room?" lamenting from them later on.
posted by Shouraku at 5:34 PM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

[OP, this is not the place to have a back-and-forth or to argue with people.]
posted by restless_nomad at 6:07 PM on December 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd like to recommend that you have a sit down with the professor, who can hear you out and give recommendations on how to move forward with the team; they are also the final say on whether or not poor peer evals will affect your grade.

I had a very similar experience with my team, while getting my MBA, and I kept my professors abreast. I guarantee that your experiences are old hat to the professor, who wants to help you succeed on a team. Show that you are trying to become a better team-mate even though you already put in so much effort in the past. The professor may clearly see that you are right, but knows that it's never a simple fix, so they want to see *you* fix it, or at least try. In the end, you may not succeed in getting the team to give you the same respect they give to everyone else, but the professor will know your efforts and, in my case, will not let peer evals affect the overall grade.

Good Luck!
posted by MansRiot at 6:23 PM on December 28, 2013

I get the sense that if OP approaches his/her professor, it will only dig a deeper hole. OP seems very defensive about this and the argument so far is, "Everyone wanted to get this project done early so they could worry about their other classes due later, but this was my other class due later." Sounds like OP should've gotten his/her other assignments done early too because he/she put everything off and then had too much workload at one time. Not to mention OP is accusing the team of being "selfish" for wanting to get the assignment done as early as possible. I have trouble seeing how a professor will be sympathetic to such defensiveness about poorly budgeting time. It seems the OP's goal from this thread is to have everyone respond, "Oh yes, your team sound like selfish assholes who really screwed you." Next time do your other assignments when you don't have other stuff due so you don't end up needing to do everything all at once. Then next time, you can be at the meetings and won't get a low participation grade.
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:34 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sounds like OP should've gotten his/her other assignments done early too because he/she put everything off and then had too much workload at one time...Next time do your other assignments when you don't have other stuff due so you don't end up needing to do everything all at once.

Just a small corollary: in my experience, this method tends to works well in the lower levels of education, K-12 and undergraduate university. It kind of falls apart when you get to grad school. In grad school there is never a point where you "don't have other stuff due," never. It's an unending stream of continuous hard work and assignments until you either crack under the pressure or graduate. Much of the time, the choice of when you get to study a specific topic is determined purely by urgency, not agency.*

Having said that, I would actually suggest that you speak to your professor, not about the group, but about how your schedule affected your class participation. What I wouldn’t do, however, is reference your group or their schedules in any way. Grad school blame gaming is never a good idea. Your group's schedules allowed them to work earlier and do extra work, mentioning that will only look like jealous whining. Saying "I arranged my assignments in order of urgency, forcing me to push yours back until closer to the deadline," is a very frequent and understandable occurrence. As long as your share of the assignment was actually completed, excluding all the extras that the group added, you should be fine. Just don't make the mistake of trying to toss blame, grad school scheduling is rough on everyone and trying to look like the lone sufferer won’t help your case.**

*This is just my experience in physics graduate school, YMMV.
**Not saying that you would actually try this. I just wanted to make sure that it was said.
posted by Shouraku at 8:06 PM on December 28, 2013

This is always how school group projects go. There is always one problem person who can't or won't do the work, for whatever reason. Whether their intentions are good or they're busy or whatever doesn't really matter. What does matter is you have one person who cannot be trusted to get the work done. This time, it was you and your team did your work for you. The evaluation is fair. Sorry.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:17 PM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here's some of the things I might have tried:

1) Moving my schedule around to accommodate meetings that regularly go over and/or suggesting that we scheduled a second weekly meeting that worked with my schedule because there was always overflow work. You refer to "contractually obligated" meetings. It's not always possible to know how many meetings or hours it will take to finish something and you can't just work to the rule, especially when everyone else is managing to put in the "overtime."

2) Seeing if there was a way to divide up work over email or Google Hangout when it wasn't possible to physically meet in person.

3) Taking on something that needed to be done every week or something that was somewhat independent from the other parts of the assignment. Is there a write-up of the week's readings that always needs to be done? Or maybe articles on the topic from the news that need to be included? If there was a substantive task that was required every time, I would make sure that was my responsibility so I was always regularly contributing.

3) Start seeing where I could rearrange other obligations to be able to contribute more work product. If I simply have too much stuff to get done in the time I have available, that sucks but that's not the rest of the team's problem. Usually, though, there are places where my preferences/work can be rearranged. "Ok, I really like to do this on Sunday mornings, but that's when they like to meet so for these ten weeks I need to find another time to do it." You mention the team wanting to meet "early, or during my class times." Class time you can't change, but sometimes you have to suck it up and meet early even if you prefer to sleep in if that's the only other time that works for everyone else.

The reality is that part of the assignment was working together. Group work is by its very nature less flexible than individual work and so it needs to be prioritized in my schedule. I can do my individual work at almost any time (late at night, on the bus, etc.) but I can only do the group work at certain times.

And, most importantly, I would have 5) Talked to the team about why I was regularly being cut out of the work and proposed solutions. Allowing this to happen week after week makes your protestations that you wanted to do the work seem disingenuous.

It seems like you expected the team to work around your schedule and preferences, and they just can't. It's not always possible to find something that works for everyone, but if a team member shows good faith, is flexible when they can be, and proposes options that work for them and others, then they're being a good contributor.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 8:25 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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