Five tips for stopping team freeriders

Addressing the problem of virtual team freeloaders

One of the biggest problems in virtual teams is freeriding (aka freeloading or loafing) where certain team members do not pull their weight.

This is a particular issue for virtual teams, virtual networks and virtual communities as research shows it is easier to break a (virtual) commitment to someone you rarely meet than a (physical) commitment to someone you see all the time.

(That’s why the telephone seems to be the preferred communication channel for people who wish to conceal or embellish the truth.)

In the world of biological teams the very same problem exists – it is known as parasitism.

For example ant colonies in particular are plagued by parasitic beetles which trick the ants into feeding them on a regular basis.

Five tips for stopping team freeriding

  1. Make sure you have a real relationship with your team members

    This is easier to do this if you can physically meet the other members of your team. However it is not impossible to have a real relationship with someone you have never met – it's just a bit harder.

  2. Develop a set of team ground rules

    Ground Rules define what constitutes freeriding and what the sanctions should be when its spotted. This can be addressed initially in a fun way such as 'Freeloader of the Month' awards.

  3. Only make important commitments

    Make sure that each commitment is actually important to the person making it and the person asking for it. The commitments which are most likely to be broken are the ones that seem like ‘nice-to-haves’ – it is better to have short must-do commitment lists rather than long wish lists.

  4. Have a Transparency & Reputation System

    Some of the best self-managed teams today are OSS (Open Source Software) Teams where there is no command and control structure. Things get done here mostly because of the individual team members desire to manage and enhance their reputations with their community peers. ‘Name and shame’ via a commitment register showing the live status of all commitments, which all team members can see, is one way to do this.

  5. Have a reminder system

    Even if people sincerely intend to deliver their commitments in busy teams they can easily forget. Put in place simple reminder systems (avoiding a command and control style) to help team members remember their commitments in advance of their due dates.




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