A Policy for the Groups I Want

Three college students working on a project together.

Colourful by bigfarmer8 on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

The dreaded hour has come: Folks in my Tech Writing course have reported group members who they cannot contact or who are not responding and other group members who are not contributing to the projects.

Now I have to figure out how to respond. I have three basic things that I want:

  • I don’t want to create a lot of rules.
  • I don’t want to enforce a lot of rules.
  • I don’t want unhappy, frustrated students.

So what to do? I landed on this idea: What if I created guidelines for the best possible scenario instead of rules for the worst situation?

So I decided to try writing some group unrules. Maybe it’s too Pollyanna and doomed to fail, but I like the result far better than the rules and unbending policies that I could have come up with. Here is my humane-centered, caring guidelines for situations where a group member doesn’t do what the group expects:

Focus on these actions if someone does not do their part.
Whether someone disappears, can’t be contacted, or is having trouble with the work, your group can search for a way to collaborate and get the work done. Here are the steps I would like you to try if this situation comes up:

  1. Try to find out why. Things happen. Maybe the person is sick (physically or mentally). Maybe the person is swamped with work. Maybe the person needs help finding the resources to get the work done. Whatever the reason, your group should start by trying to find out. Being humane and supportive is more valuable than a perfect memo.
  2. Get them help if needed. In some cases, you can help them yourselves. In other cases, you might want to suggest other resources. The Writing Center is a great resource if someone is having trouble getting started or needs help with any part of the writing process. You can also let me know what I can do to help.
  3. Solve the issue among the group members. Once you know what’s going on and address the issue, your group should be able to find a way forward. Maybe you need to adjust the work schedule. Perhaps you need to have a working meeting where members write together. As much as possible, try to solve the problem as a group.
  4. Talk to me if you need more help. Finding your own way is a large part of what project management is about. That said, I’m not saying that you can’t ask for help. Let me know what you’ve tried and what you’d like me to do.
  5. Note what’s going on if it’s time to submit your work. Everyone should have until the Target Due Date for each of the assignments. If the Target Due Date is here however and you’re not sure when the missing person will deliver their work, add a note in your project that explains what’s going on. You can write something like this:

    This section is missing from our report. Tian Tian has COVID and is not able to do their part of the report for at least another week.

    Additionally add a Submission Comment to tell me what’s going on. Be sure to include details on when (or if) the missing work can be added.

Will this policy solve everything? No. I’m sure it won’t. I fear that I’ll eventually have to remove a missing student from a group. Right now, I don’t know where I’ll put them instead. But also right now, I like this policy that assumes we all support one another and that a missing student needs to be taken care of, not punished.