Teamwork. What could be more rewarding to your employees than being assigned to work on a big project that includes multiple workers from different departments? They’ll get to dive into an exciting project. Their visibility will increase across the organization. Surely, as a manager you are having these thoughts. Unfortunately, not everybody comes to a project with the intent and energy you envision.
Team-based projects are supposed to be all about people pitching in and working together. All too often, your team may suffer from ‘social loafing,’ a phrase coined by Ken Downer at RapidStartLeadership.com. Regardless of what you call it, some people will not carry their weight when they are part of a team project. Downer points to common causes for this problem. You may have assigned too many people to the team, thus making it easy folks to slack. They may be slacking because they lack confidence in their ability to be a key contributor, or because they are having trouble committing to the objective.
If you don’t address the obvious slacking on the team, you’ll soon have disgruntlement and disagreement. People may become focused on tracking how late the slackers are coming in to the office. They may start gossiping about how little a particular individual is contributing. Before you know it, you’re faced with a disintegrating work culture.
While the ultimate goal for a team may be to deliver a product update or a completed document, you can prevent slacker behavior by establishing accountability at critical points. Make sure each team member understands his specific responsibilities and deadlines to complete each of these tasks within the context of the larger project. Then, hold people accountable. One of Downer’s suggestions is to hold regular meetings in which members discuss their progress and show concrete evidence of their work. This strategy will encourage slackers to start contributing to the project in order to save face in front of their peers.
Finally, don’t forget to reinforce team unity. Celebrate the achievement of milestones with food and beverage and announce the success to the entire organization. It the team meets a deadline early, give them a little time off. All team members, including those who might be tempted to slack, will start to appreciate their role and increase the volume of their work.