I'm currently in college, working as part of at team for one of the CA projects. it's a problem based learning project where we've been given a trigger and told to come up with something to represent it.We've been assigned to specific teams and we're not allowed change to another team. All problems/issues must be resolved within the team. We've decided to toy around with the idea of a game. The PBL procedure involves assigning roles to each team member and getting stuck in, analysing the problem, deciding on the best way to solve it, getting stuck into UML and coding etc... (we're using Java). However, it seems to me that for the most part my fellow team members seem to lack enthusiasm for the task at hand. After our first lesson one member was assigned the task of printing out special "trigger" cards for the purpose of the next meeting, and one was supposed to update the log with the minutes of the last meeting. Now we're in week 3 and I've printed the cards myself and I've had to post on the online log and ask for it to be updated (4 days after the class).I find it quite distressing to be honest. Last week we assigned tasks to each member, namely researching a specific type of game to see the feesability of using it for the project. I regularly composed and sent emails on my progress, ideas of how we could proceed, even diagrams and the beginning of UML class diagrams that might be useful. I got some response form one of the memebrs (4 on the team) but nothing from the others. In the mean time we got a mail from the lecturer saying he couldn't make the next class, but it wasn't an issue, the materials were online and he was just an observer this time anyway. When I got to class the other day, one guy didn't show up, apparently it's too far to drive if there's not even a lecturer there (like the workshop would be much different anyway); and when we got into it, the other lads had come up with "maybe some sort of pacman game would be good", but that was it, no research, no ideas on how we might code it, nothing. They completely shot my idea down as too much work, but didn't offer any suggestions to replace it. I'm not the chair person on this team, how can I help motivate them to get stuck in without offending anyone? or maybe the team needs a shake up to get some life into it.

I really don't get the lack of interest or excitement, this is a part-time course, everyone has full time jobs, I'd imagine they're here because they have life experience and now know what they want, but listening to them talk, and the lack of "buzz" for the want of a better word, about the project doesn't instill confidence in our ability to get it done. It kind of feels like I'm currently the driving force behind it, but I don't want to be pushy; however at this rate I can't see how we can complete the project on time. For the most part they only seem to communicate during college hours. We've set up a shared workspace for task management, scheduling etc, but again no-one seems interested in maintaining it. Is it me? am I expecting too much? am I that annoying "me! me! me!" individual in the group? I don't think so, am I wrong getting frustrated at the lack of movement? we're heading into week 4 now and while we've agreed a game "template" but it's only because I pushed it, they wanted to wait for the other guy to return, but then we'd be in week 5 of an 11 week project with no movement.

Sorry for the rant! I'd be very grateful for any words of wisdom you can provide.


4 Answers 4


I hated group projects in school for the same reasons that seem to frustrate you! But this happens in real life projects all the time: you get stuck on a bad project team with poor leadership, and you're the only one who cares. Here are some ideas:

  1. Help define your team's purpose and goal -- and then make the most of it. Don't be afraid to state the obvious like, "it seems that none of us want ot be here or be part of this project, but we all chose to take this class, so we might as well do a halfway decent job and try to have some fun with it." In real life, it might be, "the feds are requiring X, so let's come up with a solution and have fun doing it." If the "have fun doing it" sounds too corny, then be honest and say, "let's get this over with and move on to the next project."

  2. It sounds like you have identified some team members who care more than others. Again, this happens in real life all the time! I believe everybody has something to offer. Discover what that is and maximize the return. For example, some people might be better suited for documentation, some might be task managers, some might be developers, some might be in charge of communications. My favorite real-life management strategy is to identify the loud-mouth complainers, delegate busy work to them, and let the productive folks do the real work.

  3. Like @jos suggested, if you are comfortable asking the chair if you can take over, go for it. Another approach might be offering to help, "would you mind if I helped you do X, Y, and Z?" If you are careful in your approach, this kind of initiative may serve you well in the future.

In the end, don't let your frustrations ruin what you contribute. Learn what you can from the experience and be better for it.

Good luck!

  • Thanks for all the responses, they're greatly appreciated. I'll take everything on board and see what happens.
    – mal
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 13:19

I have worked in university group projects like this, (also with Java and UML) and although I have never had an experience as seemingly unbalance as this, I think motivating and keeping the group together is actually one of the tougher parts of these assignments.

You say you are not the chair, but you are clearly the one taking the lead here, so would there be harm in asking to become the chair so you could push the project forward?

What you have to be careful of is taking on too much and then feeling bitter about your greater contribution. I would try and find out which parts of the project the others are the most interested in, and then assign roles on this basis. Keep the meeting minutes where these roles were discussed, so that the project marker will see who has completed their tasks, and who has lagged behind.

Again in the meetings, have an agenda of discussion so you can get the most out of your time together, and assign specific tasks at the end, to be completed by the next meeting. Making these tasks small, but maybe assigning three or four of them to each person might be beneficial - as often I think people not doing their bit in these projects is more about being overwhelmed by the size of the task and knowing where to start. Another issue could be having fuzzy responsibility - thinking, oh well he is partly responsible for this task too, so I won't bother. Make it clear who is expected to deliver for what, and don't share tasks unless you are willing to work together in face to face meetings (if email communication is proving difficult).

Ultimately, if you do your part, the lecturer will recognise this and mark accordingly - there is no way one person can do a four person project. If you are really worried - I would raise you concerns with the lecturer too - not necessarily for intervention, but more for a heads up if the project ends up not being completed on time.

Hope that helps a bit, good luck with it!


Yes, school group projects suck. Here are some pointers.

Self-motivation. The project you're doing sounds fun and creative. If you're working with people who like programming and/or creative problem solving you're responsibility is to make them want to work on this project. The worst thing you can do in this regard is micro-manage or assign rigid tasks with deadlines. Talk to each team-member privately. Ask what part of the project he or she would like to work on, what skills they can bring to the table, what would be fun, etc. Tell your teammates to do work on what they want to work on and report their progress as they go. Sure this will create miscommunications and redundancy within the team, but at least you're team will be excited, they'll be working, enjoying themselves and learning along the way.

External motivation. Not everyone can be self-motivated. If your teammates are looking to cruise through the project with minimal effort, than you'll want to express that the project is being graded and if you don't come together you all risk not having anything to show to your professor. Be careful never to insult or offend your teammates for their laziness – hurting any feelings will not help your cause.

Lead by example. I think this is the true test of a leader. In real life, collaborations fail. If you want this project to succeed, you may need to suck it up and get things done yourself. If your team is enjoying vacation time and out partying while you're staying up late and working on this project, don't be spiteful. You want to learn, you want to get a good grade on your project, and picking up other people's slack will prepare you for the real world while making you a better human being. In most cases, a professor will notice when one team member picks up slack for the rest of the team and he recognizes this when giving grades. Ideally, your team will be inspired by your work ethic and will want to help you. If not, they are only cheating themselves.

Even as you pick up slack, it is essential that you make room for your teammates to join in. As you work, don't forget to provide your teammates with consistent status updates by email and a todo list of tasks to be completed, with suggested work for certain team members.

Lastly, don't close any doors or burn any bridges. Realize that most people prefer to wait until the last minute and get everything done under time pressure. You can expect that as your deadline approaches, teammates will show up looking to work and contribute – this may annoy you. Be forgiving and let them.


Sounds like a classic case of Student Syndrome from the Theory of Constraints.

Not much you can do but be prepared to do a tremendous amount of work at the last minute.

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