Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Troublesome Teammate

Dear Jocelyn,  
I am working on a class project in a team of five people. Three of my teammates are great, and the other is … special. In my opinion, the idea of working as a team is that everyone brings ideas to the table and then you decide as a group. She has some decent ideas, but others aren’t feasible for what we are trying to do, and she won’t let any of her ideas go. If we manage to talk her down from an idea one day, she brings it up the next day like the previous conversation didn’t happen. At this point I’m not sure we can trust her to research ideas that aren’t her own, and we’re losing a lot of valuable time (and sanity) repeating all of these conversations. I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but I kind of want to shove her in a corner with a coloring book so she won’t screw anything up and we can actually get our project done. Any thoughts on how to deal with coloring book girl, short of murder or crayons?  
-Really Frustrated

Dear Frustrated,  
Depending on your teammates, working on a team can improve a project by providing collaboration between brains and division of labor, or it can make the members want to hit their heads repeatedly on the wall. It sounds like you are having the latter experience.   

As I see it, you have four options.  All of these should be discussed with your other teammates to make sure that you are in agreement about which one to choose. The first is to gently confront the team member who is slowing you down. Tell her she has some great ideas, but that she needs to drop the issue if the team decides not to use one of her ideas. Tell her that it feels like it is slowing everything down to go over these ideas several times. Depending on your level of comfort  with confrontation (and with this girl), this might or might not be the way to go.   

A second idea is to simply shut her down when she tries to bring these ideas up again. If she begins to present a previously rejected idea, simply say, "Jane, we already talked about that and decided not to use it." Then quickly move on to another idea. If she insists on discussing it, say, "We discussed it yesterday and we don't have time to talk about it again." Repeat as necessary.   A third idea is to find a small sub-project for her to work on by herself. If the project can be divided up into parts, give her a part that is hard to mess up, and ask her to focus on that. That might occupy her attention long enough for the rest of you to get your work done.

A fourth idea is to go to the professor about this. I would reserve this for only severe cases of teammate issues, since the professor will not appreciate being bothered with minor team disputes. However, if the first three ideas do not work, and you find yourself wishing for a weapon whenever she opens her mouth, then consider asking the teacher to talk to her. You should know that this will, most likely, make working together more awkward, and she might be angry at having been called out. So use this only in case of emergency.   Best of luck to your team. And remember - the dollar store has great deals on coloring books if you need them!

-Jocelyn

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