The Ringelmann effect describes the tendency for individuals within a group to become less productive as the group size increases.
Understanding the Ringelmann effect
The Ringelmann effect, also known as social loafing, was first identified by French agricultural engineer Max Ringelmann.
To determine how agricultural workers could maximize their productivity, Ringelmann conducted a series of now landmark experiments.
In one experiment, he measured the pulling power of a group of individuals with a pressure gauge mounted to a rope.
Ringelmann discovered that as more people were added to pull the rope, the more each individual would perform below their potential.
If two people could pull 200 units independently, they could only pull 186 units together. Worse still, teams of eight with a combined pulling power of 800 units could only manage a miserly 392 units.
In explaining his results, Ringelmann noted two contributing factors:
Motivation decreased when more people shared responsibility for a task
He explained in his research that this was due to each man “trusting his neighbour to furnish the desired effort.”
Inefficiencies increased due to a lack of task and effort coordinating among individuals
This is commonly seen in sports where a coordinated champion team performs better than an uncoordinated team of champions.
Further causes of the Ringelmann effect
Many have researched the causes of the Ringelmann effect in more detail since it was first described in the early part of the 20th century.
Two other causes are explained below.
Co-worker performance expectations
Research in the 1980s and 1990s found expectations of co-worker performance can also explain the Ringelmann effect.
Social loafing was found to be common in groups consisting of high achievers since individuals saw an opportunity to become lazy and let others do the work.
When the group was comprised of low-achieving individuals, however, the reverse was found to be true.
The phenomenon where an individual increases their output to compensate for the lower output of others is known as the social compensation hypothesis.
The Ringelmann effect is also caused by evaluation potential, or a lack thereof.
Essentially, the reduction in output for collective tasks occurs because people can avoid being evaluated in isolation as part of a group.
When allowed to hide in the crowd, as it were, people are prone to reducing their effort.
How can the Ringelmann effect be avoided?
At Amazon, Jeff Bezos’s “Large Pizza Rule” says that no team should be so large that it cannot be fed by a large pizza.
With that said, there are also some more formal ways the Ringelmann effect can be avoided:
While easier said than done, businesses can increase team collaboration by creating a workplace culture where trust, shared values, and mutual understanding are prioritized.
Recruiting employees who interact well with others is also important.
When employee names are designated to specific project tasks, individual and thus team performance improves.
This strategy takes advantage of evaluation apprehension, a phenomenon where people are preoccupied with how others perceive them and act to avoid judgement.
Positive reinforcement can also be an effective strategy in combating the Ringelmann effect.
Individuals should be acknowledged or even celebrated for their contributions, preferably in a public context.
- The Ringelmann effect describes the tendency for individuals within a group to become less productive as the group size increases.
- The Ringelmann effect is primarily driven by two factors. The first is a decrease in motivation that occurs when more people share responsibility for a task. The second is inefficiencies that result due to a lack of task coordination.
- The Ringelmann effect can be mitigated by creating a company culture where teamwork is prioritized, designating specific tasks to individuals, and celebrating their contributions to the group.
Connected Thinking Frameworks
Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking
Other strategy frameworks:
- AIDA Model
- Ansoff Matrix
- Balanced Scorecard
- BCG Matrix
- Design Thinking
- Lean Startup Canvas
- Pestel Analysis
- Technology Adoption Curve
- Total Addressable Market