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So to describe the scenario, here is what happened. We were assigned a group task for business throughout the entire semester. Each of us discussed what topics to cover and came up with an equal amount of workload for each member. I had noticed that close to the due date, we were quite far away from finishing the assignment (I myself was to blame as well) but we managed to pull it off by the very last few hours before it was due. Except for one of my team mates who did not post anything into our collaborative assignment document, but did mention she had her research ready and was ready to start. We also had a couple of team meetings with our course lecturer to notify our progress and also clearly stating the deadline of this task so she was completely aware of what to do and when to finish it by. I overlooked this until about 1 hour before it was due (as I was working during this time) I noticed that her piece of information was missing. I gave her the benefit of the doubt, and thought maybe she was finalising everything and then going to pull it off last minute. But nothing happened so I desperately tried to contact her only to find that she was completely offline from the phone and her provided social media. So we ended up submitting an incomplete assignment. I ended up contacting the course lecturer and he stated that considering what had happened she will receive a zero.

I later received a message the next day, stating an apology and her explaining how she had some "issues". She did not go into detail but I am assuming they are quite serious. Hence, I now feel extremely awful about her getting a zero. Should I recontact the course lecturer about this?

p.s I was definitely very disorganised with this assignment as I think i did not communicate often enough to encourage each other to complete parts by certain deadlines.

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    I would assume that if she had some serious issues which prevented her from doing her work, she would contact the course lecturer about it and sate her case
    – stuckstat
    Apr 18, 2020 at 14:01
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    Not to mention that the group member had plenty of opportunities before the last minute to make her contribution.
    – stuckstat
    Apr 18, 2020 at 14:02
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    Regarding the added PS: is everyone an equal contributor or was it somehow your responsibility to see that the entire assignment got pulled off by the "team"? The PS seems to indicate that the onus of encouraging the team and getting the assignment done was on you
    – stuckstat
    Apr 18, 2020 at 14:04
  • @ stuckstat I guess it was an equal contribution, but I guess it still doesn't change the fact that there was a way I could have handled the situation before it got to this.
    – John Kim
    Apr 18, 2020 at 14:05
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    Were the "issues" basically that she just found out she wasn't getting a free ride from everyone else's work, I wonder? She certainly deserves 0 for her ability to communicate within the team!
    – alephzero
    Apr 18, 2020 at 23:08

3 Answers 3

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No, you didn't do the wrong thing. She did not notify you in advance of the deadline, and you needed to submit to avoid incurring your own penalties. She and the instructor can sort out the mark - it may be that her issues meet the guidelines for special consideration for example. Ultimately, it's none of your business and not your responsibility.

I know some instructors think that group work is a good way of preparing for teamwork in the real world. But, in the real world, problems like this are handled by the boss, not the other team members. On the other hand, you should learn from the experience to have all the team members commit to completing their pieces in advance of the deadline (preferably a week or so in advance if there's enough time), so that you have a chance to resolve such problems before the project completion date.

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  • The discussion about different management approaches has been moved to chat.
    – cag51
    Apr 19, 2020 at 23:46
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You did the right thing in reporting it, but you did the wrong thing in letting it get so far that you submitted an incomplete course work.

In my past course work, there were always people that didn't contribute. It's a staple of course work that there's always one person doing the majority of the work and at least one person doing none of it. Part of the course work is learning to deal with situations like these.
People are very different, with very different approaches to work. Some people try to avoid work, others try to get it done as soon as possible, many, like you (and me), avoid it til the last moment and then rush it. At the end of the work, you still need a finished product. Other groups generally have the exact same problems.

If something prevents you from completing your work, it needs to be recognized before the deadline, not after. If, in a professional setting, your team plays solitaire all day, then rushes to finish the product a day before your boss planned the big release for the shareholders, you can't point at your coworker and say "he didn't do his part when we were doing all the work yesterday." Your team didn't deliver and fingerpointing will not make his shareholders happy. That colleague will later be fired, but most likely you'll be fired as well, because you let it get that far.

That is why, as difficult as it is, it's important to have milestones with constant progress that you can check on. If you notice a lack of progress early, you can talk to the teammate, maybe even redistribute work so that person gets some easier or more suitable tasks, and, if there is still no progress, you can escalate and report it immediately. Afterwards, the remaining team members take over the work the other team member was supposed to do and you still deliver a finished course work.

I'm not a lecturer, but if I had been yours, while I would give the non-contributing team member a bad/failing grade, I would also deduct points from all the other team members for not submitting a completed assignment.

The issues that team member is talking about were, with a very high probability, nerves and pressure, maybe combined with dread and despair. Being so close to the deadline with nothing to show for it can overwhelm people, making them completely unable to do any work, even if they really want to. Having many smaller milestones can help those people, because instead of a daunting mountain of work directly in front of them, they just have lots of small hills of work.

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  • There is some good advice here but it's mixed with things I disagree with. Firstly, it's common with groupwork for someone to wait until the last minute, and you can't really report someone for that unless you want to be overcontrolling. You only find out if they really ended up contributing nothing until the assignment deadline passes, and that is when you can report.
    – 6005
    Apr 19, 2020 at 14:04
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    @6005 you can as a team always commit to internal deadlines and that is a very healthy thing to do. If then someone continuously fails these deadlines you sure can report them for being uncoopoerative. Apr 19, 2020 at 21:25
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There is a lot of "blame" to go around here, including your instructor. Taking a "group" assignment and deciding to turn it in to a set of individual sub-assignments is an extremely risky and otherwise poor solution. It probably wouldn't be tolerated in a real (workforce) situation. Such a division almost guarantees sub-optimal performance, and requires constant monitoring of every participant to approach a reasonable solution. That just adds work.

The fact that your instructor didn't instruct you differently is on them. It should have been done. I would have been much more likely to downgrade everyone on the "team" than single out an individual. But I'd also have given you guidelines on how to carry out such a team assignment and to caution you against the path you took.

There were lessons to be learned from this experience, but I'm afraid that you are carrying away the wrong ones. Notifying the instructor wasn't wrong, but it was an admission that the team itself had failed in some way.

"Equal contribution" is a very strange concept. I don't know how it can be measured. In a team, people can contribute very differently to the process. Some can manage, some can research, some can write. Even cheerleading a team is valuable if things get hard: "We can do this folks!!!".

I'll also note that by dividing up the work you also probably added to the difficulty of the task since you added in an "integration" step that wasn't necessarily implied by the assignment itself. And you gave up the opportunity for synergy and idea sharing that a true team tries to achieve.

I'm sorry to have to tell you these things after you've finished when they should have been emphasized to you by your instructor. It isn't obvious before you've ever done such a project that your division of labor was a poor choice.

You've done nothing wrong in stating a true fact, of course. You aren't the cause of your "teammate" getting a zero. That is all on the instructor.


It isn't really my role here to be your professor. But I hope you will learn something from the above and from the experience.

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    To say that "the team failed" when one member shirked responsibility is wholly unfair. Unless the team is digging a ditch, or some other perfectly partitionable task, there will necessarily be individual tasks and an integration step. Even if the task is perfectly partitionable, not everyone will dig at the same rate, and "cheerleading" can only take people so far. I solved this by allowing group project teams to "fire" team members. The remainder of the team had to agree unanimously, and had to notify me and the fired member, who had to complete the project alone. No one ever got fired.
    – Bob Brown
    Apr 18, 2020 at 17:35
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    This " Taking a "group" assignment and deciding to turn it in to a set of individual sub-assignments is an extremely risky and otherwise poor solution. It probably wouldn't be tolerated in a real (workforce) situation" is either poorly worded or weird misinformation. Nearly every work place does break down bigger tasks into smaller sub-tasks that are done by sub-teams or individual team members. What you might have meant is that they are way too decoupled, i.e. you should not only synchronize your efforts at the start and at the end but continously. Apr 18, 2020 at 23:19
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    @user111388 I had a similar policy in one of my classes and yes, we fired a team member. Firing a team member allows the rest of the team to appropriately delegate the remaining work instead of being strung along by somebody who is not onboard with the team. Learning teamwork is important, but at the end of the day, this is academia where your records reflect only your achievement. This should not be marred by other students shirking their work because they know you will do it anyways. I have no problem doing their work alone, but they surely are not getting credit for it. Apr 18, 2020 at 23:20
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    @Buffy The splitup seems totally reasonable to me. In every team I've worked so far, a big task comes in, the team discusses how to do it, the big thing is split up and individual team members take over different pieces. What I do agree with would be different is the rate of coordination, feedback loops and ideally the time-planing (not doing everything on the last day, because that makes the aforementioned parts more difficult). Apr 19, 2020 at 0:03
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    As for the slapping everything together at the end thing. While I agree that ideally you have smaller pieces and incrementally build stuff, sometimes that's not reasonable on every level either. As you're a CS prof, let's say you want to provide some feature that requires multiple components or services. Every team member takes one and in the end they are integrated. That is very common. Just that hopefully there are some API contracts and intermediate synchronization. Though, some lack thereof is often enough a problem in the real work place world too^^ Apr 19, 2020 at 0:07

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