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As part of an academic course we have to develop a project. It is a group of 5 students. In such environment there is no hierarchy, all students have the same authority. There are several tasks to be done (writing a document, coding, ... ). One of the students is not very expert in one of the tasks and the results are poor. Then it takes the other students a lot of effort to fix the issues. The student though it's very prone to continue working on this type of tasks.

He is a very hard worker and takes initiative but not in the direction we would like.

We need the student to continue on the team and keep a good atmosphere because we are collaborating on other courses too.

His handicap is not a core competence in the course so it is not an objective of the course to develop these skills.

How can we manage the situation without causing hard feelings and keeping the good atmosphere we are having so far?

I understand this topic, even if not in the business field, has its application to business. It is a good example of leading, organizing and negotiating without authority.

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Read Belbin's Team Role Theory and French and Raven's Power Types.

There are other theories, as well, so a bit of research will uncover a ton of academic conversations around your issue you are facing.

The key take away is that high functioning teams gravitate its individuals to play certain, necessary roles that make it a high functioning team. It is irrelevant that all of you are technically the same "rank." If you want your project team to be high performing, you need to facilitate each individual to gravitate towards the role that best fits their skill sets. This individual who is performing poorly with certain tasks likely has the skill sets (s)he can do that will bring a ton of value to the team. What you need to do is observe how people are relating to each other and see if you can fit each into a role category like described by Belbin and see who is standing up as the leader, maybe based on one of the five power types as discussed by French and Raven.

  • Thanks for the articles. Now that I have had time to read them I have found them very appropriate and useful. – Picarus Dec 24 '13 at 15:50
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Short answer: communicate. Do what is called a retrospective.

Long answer: The only way to resolve this situation without bad blood, is to talk about it in the whole team. Tell you teammate that you have concerns regarding his work. Explain your position and let him explain his. Then try to find a solution. Don't try to force anything on anyone. It's hard work, but blaming others behind their backs will lead to bad blood, because nothing will change and with every "failure" the situation will get worse, until it escalates.

A possibility could be to work on these kind of task in pairs for a while. This would lead to an exchange of ideas. Maybe your teammate just isn't aware of the possibilities you see?

Another thing is, regardless of whether these kind of tasks are relevant for the course, to look for some mentoring for the tasks. Since they seem to have some importance to your team, you should give them appropriate attention. Maybe you can all learn something on the topic!

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This is not specific to this question but rather general advice for resolving these types of inter-personal issues: try to put yourself in their shoes first.

  • what do they gain from the current behavior?
  • what's their benefit in resisting the change you'd like to happen? (Retaining influence, protecting their work, ...)
  • how can they benefit in similar/same/better ways from embracing a change or how can you adapt your desired outcome so that both your priorities can be satisfied.

It's kind of hard sometimes to get people to talk openly about these points because some might not be clear to them, others they might not want you to know, but if you can't figure it out using these steps, I suggest addressing it in a direct fashion.

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