• Tori Dennison

Group Projects: How to Deal with Unhelpful Members

Whether you love them or hate them, group projects are a part of everyone’s educational career. Group projects are bearable when the group divides the work, group brainstorming produces creative ideas, and the results are better than what one person could do on their own. However, group projects immediately are dreaded when it is evident there is going to be an unhelpful member.


Our brains quickly rack up the memories of the group projects we have been a part of where one of our partners contributed bad work or no work at all. In situations like this, the question is, how should a group handle a member like this. All members want to prevent any negative impacts on the final product.


Establishing a group leader is a valuable first step in dealing with an unhelpful or unproductive group member. A leader is crucial because every group needs someone to make sure each member is pulling their weight and staying accountable for their responsibilities. When the group has someone everyone must report to, it will push all members to do their best work.

Making time to plan ahead is another way to keep unproductive members in line. By designating assignments to group members and having a specified plan of how the project is going to develop, it is easier to pick out who is not abiding by the established criteria. Planning ahead also prevents anyone from saying they did not know what they were supposed to do.


If a group wants good results on their project, there needs to be constant communication between group members on progress and expectations. The only way to keep unhelpful group members accountable for their work is by first communicating what the expectations are from each member. From there, it is up to them to do their work, and if it does not get done, it does not fall on the other members. Communication also prevents there from being misunderstandings


Setting group rules at the beginning of the project can set the tone for what the goals of the groups. The rules can include consequences for missing deadlines, expectations for content quality, and communication. Establishing rules from the beginning will inform group members that if they choose not to participate or provide the appropriate content, there will be consequences. Having stated rules is another way to create a system of accountability. 


If all other efforts fail when trying to deal with an unhelpful member, as a group, go to the professor. Professors are aware that not every student puts effort into a group project as they should. Based on what the group tells the professor, they will give guidance on how to deal with the situation or provide comfort in that the contribution of the one unproductive member will not affect the grade of the other members. 


Being in the middle of a project with an unhelpful member can be stressful and overwhelming, but it is crucial to try and work with them at first. Do everything possible to get them to participate before giving up, but most importantly, make sure you are not the member not contributing.



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Eastern Michigan University is a comprehensive, co-educational public university in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The university was founded in 1849 as Michigan State Normal School.