Keep those Slackers on Track

Group work is just fine when everyone contributes fully. Today’s post is about how to knock heads when your co-workers are acting more like cow-orkers.

Collaborations break down when participants aren’t invested to the same degree. Your beloved project about slug habitats may be at the bottom of your co-author’s priority list (shocking, I know). Here’s a few tips to get you started on the right track:

  1. Discuss authorship roles and responsibilities at the beginning of the project. Be clear about expectations, and be willing to revisit the authorship order as needed.
  2. Discuss priorities and potential roadblocks. For example, I have an annual report I produce each year from April to June. Not only does it suck up my time, but it becomes my highest priority.  I know this will likely get in the way of collaborations and I can warn my co-authors.
  3. Discuss the time frame and be flexible. Maybe you would like everyone to turn in a first draft of their sections within two weeks, but insisting on a short time frame may prohibit others from joining your paper.

After the work has begun, be willing to give reminders and help problem solve. Of course, your tact will vary depending on the co-authors.

Working with Peers: Start with clear deadlines, but make sure that everyone agrees on them. If your peer co-author is late, it’s okay to send a quick email asking for an update, but best to speak in person. Do not post your frustration on Facebook.

Working with your Supervisor (or others higher on the food chain): If he or she is late with work, provide an option for other ways to contribute. E.g., “It sounds like this may not be the best time for you to contribute to this paper. Another option is for you to come in at a later date and provide feedback on the semi-final product. Please let me know what you prefer. If you want an authorship role, could you finish your section by the end of the week?” Definitely do not post your frustration on Facebook.

Working with your Supervisees (or others lower on the food chain): This is a special case. Supervisees may be late with work out of writing anxiety. Instead of just providing reminders and asking about late work, make time to sit down and problem-solve. You might be able to help break down the assignment into small goals. And, yes, go ahead and post about it on Facebook. A little humiliation never hurt (just jokin’).

Any horror stories you’d like to share?

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