Thursday, February 25, 2010


I've been asked to consider taking on a new responsibility here. It's a responsibility that comes with a lot of responsibility, and relatively little power, though it's very important that the job be done well and ethically. It involves working with folks who have tenure, organizing them to get certain tasks done.

One of my friends, helping me think about my decision, asked me what I would do if someone said simply "no" when asked to do his/her share of a task. Note that tasks aren't exactly equal in this world.

Most of my colleagues wouldn't say "no" without a good reason, but what counts as a good reason is complex, of course. One person's "good reason" is another person's BS.

The reality of tenure means that most of my colleagues are, indeed, responsible and ethical, but that certainly there are a few who don't pull their weight.

So, as a responsible person with relatively little power (I can't fire these folks, affect their pay, or withhold special treats/privileges), what do you do when someone says "no" to doing their share of a group job?

(I do have a couple ideas about how I might handle it, but I'm interested in hearing from other folks. Thanks.)


  1. I'm on a committee with similar responsibilities: if you actually get some good ideas about how to handle the "I prefer not to" response from a tenured faculty member, I'd love to hear them, because, alas, dear Bardiac, not all tenured faculty have good reasons.

  2. As department chair at a CC, I have lots of responsibility and very little power -- beyond "I'll tell the dean, and she'll talk to you"...

    For the most part, my duties are things the faculty want/need to get done (scheduling, for the most part) -- so I'm pretty lucky that way.

    As for the other stuff, I've found that it's useful to have two or three back-up plans -- and to actually ask, not tell (I made that mistake once -- early -- never again..).

    It's also helpful to keep the whole group informed as to who is doing what -- thank them profusely etc.. and then share successes with the whole group. That way the non-tenured folks see you are a good manager, and when you need to ask them to pitch in they will. It also shows the "no thanks" folks that the project was accomplished without them.

  3. Anonymous12:24 PM

    You can also make up a list of tasks, come to the meeting and say that we all have to take a task and go round the room asking which task each person will take on. That means it's very difficult to say no to everything.

  4. ooh, i had one of those big responsibility / no power jobs. it was not in academics, but a professional context, so take this for what it's worth.

    surprisingly, hardly anyone said no. they fell into two groups: people who were seriously overloaded with crisis/deadline work [and usually people in that category helped, anyway], and relative newbies who had rather inflated ideas about their importance and priorities.

    my biggest secret weapon was that i did not say "no" much myself, so i had already helped nearly everyone i asked in some substantial ways.

    in pitching the requests, i usually talked face to face; stressed the qualities or experience of the person being asked, and their importance to the task; and tried to make the task clear and manageable. also tried to offer practical support; and find out if there were ways to make it more do-able for the person.

    a reality is that if someone is not willing to pull his/her weight, and you have no power, there is not much you can do but move on and find another way to get stuff done. but that doesn't mean you have to be happy about the non-cooperation, or endorse it. at least in my work, those who don't play well with others find that they do not have the support they want when they go asking.

  5. my comments got too long and i took out a paragraph about team-building, which was essentially what ItPF said -- getting people on the same page, keeping them informed of who is doing what and what progress is being made, thanking everyone and celebrating all progress. and also -- always have food at meetings. :)

  6. You can't fire foilks, but it would be nice if "yes" and "no" fed into some kind of evaluation/rewards system. In my place, most of us are overloaded, but there are people who don't do anything that's not directly in their interest, and there are others who do mediocre jobs and complain a lot; and there are others who do everything.

    If service is a part of the job, then it should count.c I don't know if you have any post-tenure reviews, but....

  7. Anonymous1:01 PM

    How about flattering them about how valuable their input would be in the project...with an undercurrent of "you can either participate and have a voice, or not participate and then, well, too bad if you don't like how it turns out."

  8. Anonymous10:16 AM

    I have two words for your consideration - Tonya Harding.