We are a few students working on a school project that will become a startup in a year.

As we want the project to work and be sure that the startup will work when we finish, we all work very hard on documentation and code.

The problem is that one of us doesn't want to join the startup in a year and only stays as a member of the school project.

Even though it's for school, our organization is the same as a startup (hence a workplace, this is why I'm posting the question here), I lead the team, we have a CTO and developers, including this member.

But as he won't join the startup, he always asks for "the easiest tasks" and is pissed when someone tells him something about his work.

I'm not that concerned, I go by the classical policy of "as long as the job is done I'm fine", but other team members start to lose motivation and patience towards this guy.

I don't want him to start feeling left behind, yet the rest of the team reasonably thinks it's unfair that someone can put minimum efforts and get away with it.

How can I make the team more united?

  • 2
    I think we have different definitions of what "the scapegoat effect" is. Aug 2, 2017 at 14:18
  • @Dukeling I'm sorry, what would be the appropriate english term for someone everyone starts avoiding and getting angry at in a group ? English isn't my native language.
    – sh5164
    Aug 2, 2017 at 14:21
  • Your real problem is "Short timer's syndrome". You need to address it with both him and the members of the team that are staying. Aug 2, 2017 at 14:27
  • 2
    "As long as the job is done, I'm fine" is absolutely the single worst way to manage. You need to be able to manage problem employees, you need to be able to frame a no and make it stick or you will get taken advantage of. You need someone to do the tasks no one wants to do. Managers have to be able to deliver news the team doesn't want to hear and then still get them to do the work. You have essentially delegated your entire job when you do this. It is a solid loser technique over time.
    – HLGEM
    Aug 2, 2017 at 14:32
  • 4
    The context makes this off-topic to me. The real "answer" is that you've got people with drastically different goals in the project: graduate versus turn it into a job. Since this guy is after the former he just wants to do the minimum amount of work required to pass and you can't hold him to your standards. You also have no usable leverage on him and what would work to manage an intern at an established company won't work for you. Your school and workplace environment are overlapping and the answer can't be found in the workplace side of things.
    – Lilienthal
    Aug 2, 2017 at 15:45

3 Answers 3


To bring this fully into the workplace, your developer is essentially suffering from "Short timer's syndrome".

This happens in workplaces when someone is close to retirement, or is leaving soon due to any of a number of reasons.

Go back and address the rest of the team bluntly:

He will not be part of the startup and he will not profit from the startup. It is not fair to expect him to put in the same effort and essentially work for free. He is working, but he is only working for the class credit. His work is equal to his compensation. We are treating him as a contractor and you as the full-time employees.

Start with that. If they continue to be annoyed, remind them that he's going to be gone soon and they won't have to deal with him. Tell them that this is something that they will have to live with in REAL LIFE(tm) as well and that it is a lesson to learn sooner rather than later.

This answer doesn't FULLY translate to the workplace. If this were an actual workplace situation, then there would be the systematic transfer of roles and responsibilities, drawing down this person's influence and importance. However, since this is also a school project, you can't just "fire" him as you would be able to do when this becomes an actual startup.

  • Thanks for the link, I'll read that and see how close to the situation it turns out to be.
    – sh5164
    Aug 2, 2017 at 14:27
  • While there are some parallels, this is pretty different from short timer's syndrome. The approach you give here to manage around the guy is correct since the goals of the people involved are so different. In a real workplace you can still manage the person who's leaving as its in his own interest to leave on a good footing. That doesn't really apply here but it's something you shouldn't forget in a general case.
    – Lilienthal
    Aug 2, 2017 at 15:40
  • @Lilienthal it was the best approximation I could come up with. The reactions of the employees to a short-timer are quite similar to the students in this case. Aug 2, 2017 at 15:52
  • @RichardU It's a good comparison to make but I'd just point that it doesn't translate fully. The script you gave would never fly in an actual company as that would be a pretty clear example of a complete management failure. That's not an issue here.
    – Lilienthal
    Aug 2, 2017 at 16:03
  • +1 for the message. As long as there are two different measurement systems, class credit and startup success, you can't have equal expectations.
    – cdkMoose
    Aug 2, 2017 at 17:24

As of now, you need to focus on the class project. Anything you get from this team member that helps the future startup is just an extra benefit.

Team projects should be evaluated on:

  • the end product
  • professor/teacher evaluation the level of participation of each member
  • team evaluation of the level of participation of each member

Unfortunately, many teachers do not take it this far. They should be checking code check ins, documentation, discussion participation (very easy if this is online), message board postings are very important. I think there should be a one-two week trial period, where if a team member doesn't pull his weight, he can be voted off the team and do the project on their own. Members don't take this lightly because they will all have to pick up the slack.

For the benefit of your startup, make sure you learn from this process how important it is to decide what is expected of everyone, how you're going to assess their participation and what are the consequences when people don't comply or perform up to expectations. Relying on being the Three Musketeers and thinking everyone will give their dying devotion is not realistic and a big risk.


Since this is a class, talk to the professor about the team member not pulling his weight.

Then if he doesn't want to take any action to lower his grade for less participation or to talk to him about the importance of fully participating, you need to take action on your own.

Sit down with the designated CTO and possibly the professor and decide what participation looks like for people who want to go on to the startup and for people who do not.

Then sit down with the team and explain that you have two sets of roles and this is what people there just for class participation will do and this is the role of people going on to the start-up afterwards. Explain that everyone will be code reviewed and that even those not going on will have to meet certain standards. Explain that negative attitudes from either group will be mentioned when the professor asks about team participation.

As an aside, talk to a lawyer about whether he has a legal stake in the start-up even if he doesn't go on to it. There may be documents you need people not going on to sign revoking any rights they have.

  • Lawyer is definitely a good idea. Aside from the classmate, the school may have a claim of partial/full ownership of any code developed as part of a class project. I'm also not sure if I agree with saying a team member isn't pulling his weight. The project is one thing, the start up another. As long as he is doing sufficient work for the project as defined by the professor, he's pulling his weight, even if it doesn't translate into a salable product for a startup company. Oct 5, 2018 at 6:45

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