Sam Holstein

6 Signs A Team Member Isn’t Carrying Their Weight

Running a small business is chaotic. There’s always about fifty times more projects than you have the bandwidth for, the competitive landscape you did last week is already out of date, and somehow your bank account is $3000 lighter than it should be at this point in the month. In the chaos, it’s easy for things that seem important to slip through the cracks.

One common thing that does is team member assessments. Small businesses rarely have the kind of systems larger companies do for keeping an eye on things, so it’s easy for new team members with a weakness for slacking to find a blind spot and settle in.

If you’re an overworked small business owner, here are some signs you have a team member who’s settling in on you.

This article is written for team leaders at small businesses. If you’re a team member, not lead, resist the temptation to judge your fellow team members by these signs. It’s fun to complain about how Zach gets, like, all the credit when he doesn’t even do anything, but you don’t actually know Zach doesn’t do anything unless you’re the team lead Zach reports to. Your time would be much better spent looking at this list and wondering if, maybe, the one who displays these signs is you.

1. You have no productivity tracker in place.

Your team doesn’t use JIRA or Basecamp. Your team doesn’t use the Microsoft or Google Suite task trackers. Hell, your team doesn’t even have a free Trello account.

Things still get done, of course. Right?

Wrong. If you don’t have a system, things fall through the cracks — but since you have no way of knowing, you never notice. That’s why people invented task tracking systems. Without a task tracking system, it’s impossible to know what actually gets done and who does it. For all you know, everyone is slacking.

2. (For hourly staff) You have no time tracking system in place.

I never liked school. The subjects were irrelevant and boring. I would have much rather spent my time reading, writing and drawing. So, I came up with a way to sneak around the teachers: Instead of taking notes on my notebook paper like all the other students, I used it to write stories and not pay any attention to class. Teachers saw me with my head down and my pencil moving and assumed I was taking notes. Sometimes they even congratulated me for my studiousness — when in reality, I had no idea what they were talking about and never would.

Bosses and clients can be tricked in exactly the same way. If a client sees me sitting at my computer typing and reading articles, I could be doing anything from working on their assignment to working on another assignment to writing fanfiction, but since all they see is typing and intense focus, they tend to assume I’m working*.

If you’re a boss or client, the fact of the matter is you’ve made the same mistake.

There’s an easy way to make sure you’ll never fall for it again.

Start using time trackers.

A time tracking system — one that takes computer screenshots, records keystrokes, and takes other mechanical measurements of activity — will give you objective, measurable indicators of time spent working. You can’t see the situation objectively without the numbers.

3. Multiple other team members complain they’re dead weight

By virtue of their position, team members don’t have all the information they need to run the team, so they can’t possibly know whether a fellow team member is pulling their own weight. It’s inevitable this will lead to some complaints — in large teams, gossip can lead to multiple complaints — but this doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Gossip happens.

If you’re getting multiple complaints about the same things about the same team member from unrelated people, however, you may want to look into it. Anyone can look at someone and find something to complain about, but if multiple people with little contact all register the same complaint about the same person, chances are you have more than just a gossip mill on your hands.

4. They suggest ideas for the project which don’t fit with the project.

Suggesting off the wall ideas is sometimes a sign of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. Suggesting off the wall ideas, however, can also be a sign that the team member doesn’t really know which ideas make sense for this project, which is a sign they are not paying attention.

If you have a team member whose suggestions often seem like they bear little relation to customer needs or project scope, or they suggest things which are pointless, you may have a team member who isn’t paying attention. A team member who isn’t paying enough attention to really know what’s going on definitely isn’t making as much of a contribution as they could be.

5. You can go a long time without hearing from them.

Let’s come back to the school metaphor. Students who are slackers love teachers who aren’t paying attention. As long as they go unnoticed, they can sit in the back of the class and read comic books all day. A smart slacker knows her best bet is to be as quiet and compliant as possible, so as to pass by unnoticed.

Likewise, a slacking team member attempts to pass by you, the team lead, relatively unnoticed. They show up to meetings they’re asked to attend, typically on time, because missing them would draw attention, but they never request meetings or stay a minute later. They deliver on deliverables when asked, but they also don’t volunteer their efforts, reach out to you to discuss work, or look for more work.

6. They don’t challenge themselves.

The whole point of not carrying your own weight on a team is to avoid work, so the last thing a slacking team member is going to do is something they find challenging.

But, slacking team members also know that someone who does no work gets fired, so their goal is to minimize the amount of work they do while maximizing the visibility of that work.

In practice, what this looks like is a team member who is quick to jump on work inside their core competencies, but who expresses no interest in gaining new skills or updating their knowledge.