I am managing a remote team of students in a university class designed to give us workplace experience. My situation is as follows:

  • First, the professor created a team of four students, and I volunteered to be the initial leader (this is a rolling position) as I have had experience with managing a remote team before.
  • This same day, I group email my team members with some standards and a few questions. Two members respond introducing themselves, agreeing to use GitHub, and sharing their GitHub ID for me to add them to GitHub organization I created for the team.
  • The next day, I group email my initial proposal for them to consider and request them to provide alternative proposals of their own. Nobody responds with critiques to this email, nor do they submit proposals of their own.
  • The next day, the professor adds a fifth student to the group and asks me to get them up-to-date, and sets a deadline for a submitted proposal. I forward all current communications to this student and send out a third group email notifying the team of the deadline and requesting they share their available times for a group meeting (one of the team members is in Korea, and most others have full-time jobs; I believe I am the only full-time student in the group). One team member responds; the other three do not.
  • Today (Saturday), I send a personal email to the student who was part of the initial group and has not responded yet; I am currently waiting to see if they respond.

My current plan is to send another group email later today asking them if a time available for me and the lone responder to my request for available times works for them. If any respond to this meeting, we will work around their time constraints to the best of our ability and hold a meeting where we create a plan for the week and discuss current issues; any who do not participate will be assigned an issue for them to complete.

The communication issue seems to be exacerbated by the fact that nobody has bought into the team; it is just something they need to do to graduate. Am I doing anything wrong here, or is this something I just need to deal with? This is my first time managing a team where participation is critical to success and where the team members have not bought into the goal before joining, and it is not like I can fire anyone for not doing their job. Any tips are welcome; I'm getting pretty desperate.

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    You volunteered as leader - did the rest of the group accept you for this position, or have they not responded to that either? – Erik Jan 15 '17 at 9:55
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    That was specified to be a first-come, first-serve, with the instructor assigning a random student if no one volunteered. It is to be a rolling position so everyone has a chance to lead the team. – user62890 Jan 15 '17 at 18:59

Ow, you're bringing back memory lane for me when I was a grad student in CS at City College School of Engineering of CUNY and I did all the group work by myself :) I usually knew by the second week of the semester that I could only count on myself to get anything done and I made my plans accordingly. It was more work for me to do the work of three to four people for each course I took but it was a lot less frustration as I did not have to hear lies that tasks were being done.

I don't think that you can expect people to react within 24 hours, especially if they are [fill-in expletive] students and your school ain't Columbia or MIT. Give them a week (5 days) to react - they have other commitments.

Get your project off the ground ASAP - you can do that part by yourself - and distribute the first assignment to each student. Give them a week to hand it in. Take the hand-in of this assignment as your first milestone. If your team mates aren't delivering, then they are worthless and you are on your own.

Be prepared to make key team decisions by yourself. When time is running short, it's either you make these decisions and make them stick or this project doesn't get done.

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  • Thank you for your response; it is pretty much what I had feared. I think I will hold a meeting on Monday with those are are responding, and assign the rest some trivial tasks. If they don't deliver, then I'll just work from there. – user62890 Jan 14 '17 at 21:18

I can offer you some tips that help iron out these issues:

  1. At the very beginning, everyone should agree on - or it should be mandated to the group - how the group should communicate. It could be that you are sending emails but these people are in a situation where they cannot check their emails at work? Maybe they prefer chat or a bulletin board/discussion group?

  2. Set expectations at the start; especially a communication matrix which has the level of communication (no-level, general, urgent) and the expected response timeframe (no response required, within 2 business days, same business day, etc.)

  3. Create and share and archive of all communication. Hint: Email is the worse form for this. Setup an online board or discussion group, or use Slack if you must.

I think if you establish the above, it should help smooth out communication issues.

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  • The majority of the team agreed to use Gitter--but no one had been on the chat at the point I asked this question. I have successfully contacted all but the newest team member and set up a meeting which 2 of the members have agreed to be at, and I think one of the others will be there too. – user62890 Jan 15 '17 at 18:58