All great things are achieved by strong teams. You assemble a galaxy of superstars but if they don’t form good team, one is left managing inflated egos and ordinary results. Inversely, one can have a bunch of average players coming together to achieve something great.
What makes the difference? Usually, it is teamwork with zero tolerance towards Free Riders…
In a B-school, one is a part of multiple teams working on different assignments at any given time. Great output is possible only when one completes the assigned case-studies and read the recommended readings, is one able to contribute to the conversation. Because one learns from one’s teammates’ experiences as much as one learns from the professors, everyone is an equal partner in the team. So, if you are not pulling your weight, you will be branded as someone who piggybanks on others’ hard work.
Such team players are called Free-riders and no B-school will teach you how to handle free-riding. It is to be learnt on the job. The joyride begins when a Free Rider does not want to be exposed but still wants the perks and benefits afforded by being in a good team. They have figured out what is the minimum level of work they have to do to continue having a fantastic work-life balance (with a nice tilt towards the ‘life’ part in the balance)
More importantly for you – how do you recognize a free-rider in your team? Let me give you a glimpse in the secret lives of Free-Riders …Here are the top 3 tell-tale signs that your team has a Free-Rider…
A) Free-Riders tend to have prolonged periods of bad-luck - For some inexplicable reason, the Universe has decided to conspire against these unfortunate souls. Illnesses, family problems, girl/boy trouble and other known problems all attack at once.
A good tip to be on a watch out for a disproportionate number of excuses in a short period of time.
B) Higher output / participation in non-study related opportunities – Free-riders have more time for themselves. Hence, it is no surprise to find them going out for more dinners, participating in more business case competitions, sports or other more meaningful pursuits of leisure. They will have infinitely more knowledge about all things not related to the due assignments. For example, it is definitely more worthwhile as well as more fun to participate in a recruiter-sponsored case competition than solve boring cases.
C) Self aggrandizing behavior – Seasoned Free riders are not accustomed to doing a lot of hard work but they have to ensure that the little work they have done is noticed by everyone. Thus, they, typically, make a big deal of their work. Tall claims are made about how difficult the assignment was. In addition to this, Free Riders will often wax eloquent about the oft-repeated mantra of ‘quality’ versus ‘quantity’… A lot of good teams fall for such excuses. Great teams know better.
Free-riders are an intrinsic part of our society. Tax-evaders have free-ridden on those who pay taxes. Some of the smartest people have free-ridden on their less brilliant teammates. In the previous article, I had covered pretty looking charmers getting their work done by others represent a typical sub-set of the Free-riding phenomena.
In the corporate world, free-riding is endemic. Incompetent bosses usually hide behind their hard-working subordinates, taking away credit for their work and suppressing their career movements.
Interestingly, free-riding works in mysterious ways sometimes. I remember working on a challenging assignment with another colleague. The colleague took up all the meatier challenges in the assignment without making me realize it. In a few weeks, I understood he had efficiently and effectively free-ridden me out of work! Such free-riding is common in high-performers who are ruthlessly ambitious about their future.
There are clever strategies to overcome such issues. Team dynamics, the kinds of rewards and pay-offs involved, the micro-culture of the team are a few factors which greatly influence a team’s chance of achieving great things. Creating pre-defined roles that makes each member directly answerable to the professors is a very big deterrent to potential free-riding. Assembling a team that comprises members with complementary skills leads to an easier division of labor and gives every member a chance to lead the team and thereby reduce some of the free riding.
It is not easy to completely remove free-riding. But being aware is the first step of being prepared.
Else, in the battlegrounds dominated by smart people, you run the risk of being taken for a ride – albeit a joyride…
Raheel did his MBA from a well-known institute of management in western India. He believes that everyone is a genius but if you measure a fish by its ability to climb a tree, you will find the fish to be pretty dumb!!
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