How to Deal with A Zombie Team member

woman discussing with her colleagues
Photo by Christina Morillo

The No.1 fear for every manager: having a non-contributor member as part of the team. A non-contributor is like a blood-sucking worm that just drains the team's energy and success. The non-contributor, aka slacker, aka free rider, aka charge number milker, is a ticking bomb inside a thriving team. Hence, as a manager, the first thing to do when you have a team (new or old) is to make sure that you deal with the team vampire quickly.

As a manager, it's your duty to build and maintain a healthy team where each member is contributing to the success of the team while growing individually and collectively. The danger of a non-contributor within a successful team resides in the fact that members of a successful team will go to great lengths to maintain the team positive rating, even if it means taking more pressure and more work individually. They share the pain as a team because they are a team. However, the longer the non-contributor remains within the team, the quicker the team will start deteriorating due to increasing and constant stress. Before you know it, the slacker will create a not-so-productive team, full of overworked, stressed out, and disjointed individuals; the death of the team is then imminent.

So, what should a manager who is leading a team that contains a slacker do? A couple of choices are available. The easiest thing to do will be to remove the non-contributor from the team right away. Although this solution is easy to do, it's not the most efficient. Reasoning: The company has invested a lot when they hired the non-contributor and the company expects to get a return on its investment. Firing the slacker will be wasting the time and money the company has invested by recruiting, interviewing, and training the non-contributor. Re-allocating the non-contributor to another team is even worse than the prior suggestion. It's just moving the problem to another part of the company; not recommended.

The best option is to reduce the impact the non-contributor has on the overall team performance. Start by reducing the non-contributor activities within the team (You mean to give a slacker a slack?!? Yes). Afterward, provide an effective singular On-the-Job training to the non-contributing team member. This should be a training targeting specifically one task that the team needs to be accomplished from the slacking teammate. Providing a specific task (meaning ONE task) to the slacker will allow him/her to build a skill that is needed by the team while providing him/her with a sense of ownership within the team. Gradually increase the workload based on the performance, by adding one task at a time as soon as the non-contributor displays a full competency and trustworthy ownership of the previously assigned task. With time, before you know it, you will have a contributor among a fully blended successful team.


  1. 3 Critical Tasks a Day - Assign yourself no more than 3 Critical tasks daily that MUST be accomplished and then go the extra length to make sure that they are accomplished before the end of the day.
  2. Have a Daily Plan - As soon as you have an assignment, draw a plan to completion by breaking it down into simple tasks that can be measured, accomplished (start to Finish), building up to the completion of the assignment.
  3. Follow-Up - Always make sure to follow up on what's been asked of you to do. Never promise something if you cannot make it happen. It's better to say no than to accept a task that you later leave unaccomplished.
  4. Do not procrastinate - Start your task with the goal to accomplish them the very same day. If a task cannot be accomplished in a day, then it needs to be broken into sub-tasks that can be assigned daily. You want a daily task list that can be closed the same day.
  5. Document your progress - This will help you stay motivated to always achieve your goals.
  6. Always Plan the next day - Before you close the day, plan the next day. This will help you to keep in mind what needs to be done first thing the next day.

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