UNSAID: Analyzing & Applying Human Behavior

How to Manage Teammates Who Refuse to Work with You As a Leader

The days where doing all the work yourself is over.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Often a hassle, these teammates may be the ones playing on their phones during meetings, refusing to do the work with excuses, or the ones who seem to listen but do not contribute. One of the biggest mistakes with managing these people is letting them off the hook and doing everything yourself — giving them a free ride.

Unlike academia, reality does not always give people the chance to flee from or report their uncooperative teammates; unfortunately, most of the time the people who work with you are assigned and cannot be switched out (it is unless they harass you, break company/group values, etc.).

Regardless of any situation, here’s a general step-by-step that can help guide you towards maintaining the team and deadlines without too much conflict.

Some IMPORTANT details to know:

  • It is extremely unlikely for an uncooperative teammate to be persuaded to do their part of the work despite how many times you remind them to with deadlines.
  • Uncooperative teammates are less likely to try to make their work the best it can be; even if incentives are given.
  • Uncooperative teammates usually do not care about how their image will be affected — they can be rude, selfish, etc. and will not give a damn.

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1. Make sure your other team members are assigned to the tasks you give them. Leave the easiest task (the task that is considered an extra or does not significantly affect the project) to the uncooperative teammate.

By giving the easiest or extra tasks to an uncooperative teammate, you reduce the risk of them messing up the important parts of the project. If they do it, it gives an extra plus to the entire project. If they don’t do it, it doesn’t really matter too much.

2. Carry meetings (1 day per week) to update your team, check the progress of the “uncooperative teammate”, and to plan backups.

Usually, an uncooperative team member will choose to miss the group meetings and thus, miss out on important details exclusive to the group. This reduces the amount of evidence they can gather against you since they weren’t there to attend the meeting in the first place and you did tell them about the meeting day and time.

Planning backups during these times will help everyone to be more prepared if a worse-case scenario occurs. Or, if the uncooperative team member decides to out on everyone to higher authority (this usually happens when they don’t receive credit or don’t see their name on the projects their group works on).

3. Continue or create your own deadlines for the team — announce them to everyone including the uncooperative team member and document it through email, Zoom, text messages, etc.

This is so that the uncooperative team member cannot say that their leader “excluded them from the team” since everything is already shared. Usually, the effect of creating deadlines (that take the fact that the team members have a life outside of the project) can help them to become more motivated to finish accordingly or early.

4. When planning for the presentation of the project with the team, make sure to plan for if the uncooperative team member decides to interrupt.

For instance, you could create a PowerPoint slide with the uncooperative team member’s role in it (just a title slide) and put it in the order in which you prefer. Then, familiarize yourself with the extra/easiest role in case the uncooperative team does not come on presentation day; this is to ensure that the presentation can run smoothly even if the uncooperative team member does not show up.

If the uncooperative team member has made 0 progress since the start of the project, a simple introduction added to the project presentation (where each team member present introduces themselves) can help to highlight the absence of the individual formally; after the last person finishes introducing themselves, the leader can mention the name of the absent team member.

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Example: Teammates Emily, John, Dakota and Leader Jordan are presenting. Teammate Ashley is absent and uncooperative. The PowerPoint slide includes Ashley’s name.

Dakota: Hi I’m Dakota, and I’ll be talking about the impacts of climate change on agriculture.

Emily: Hi I’m Emily, and I’ll be talking about the impacts of climate change on lifestyle.

John: Hi I’m John, and I’ll be talking about the impacts of climate change on food.

If higher authority deems the situation as one in which nobody can make excuses for not covering a subtopic of the project:

Jordan: Hi I’m Jordan, and I’ll be talking about the impacts of climate change on weather. Lastly, we have Ashley — unfortunately, she’s not here today but Dakota, Emily, John and I will touch upon the topics of economy in terms of climate change.

  • This situation will help those in higher authority to understand that Ashley did not contribute to the project since she was not there to present.

If higher authority deems the situation in which people can say that they had to deal with personal matters, stuck in traffic, etc. to avoid showing up:

Jordan: Hi I’m Jordan, and I’ll be talking about the impacts of climate change on weather. *Direct transition cue to the first person talking*

  • In the case of a PowerPoint presentation, you can then put the names of the team members who contributed. In doing so, those in higher authority can understand that Ashley did not do any work since her name was not up there and she did not show up to present.

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Michelle Lin

Michelle Lin

Self taught to decipher human body language & identify psychological manipulation. Invested 4 years interpreting behavior on Quora and constantly learning 24/7.