Ringelmann Effect In A Nutshell

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Evaluation potential

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:

  • Social capital – 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.
  • Task designation – 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. 
  • Recognize contributions – 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.

Key takeaways:

  • 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 Business Concepts

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Six Thinking Hats Model

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Moonshot Thinking

Moonshot thinking is an approach to innovation, and it can be applied to business or any other discipline where you target at least 10X goals. That shifts the mindset, and it empowers a team of people to look for unconventional solutions, thus starting from first principles, by leveraging on fast-paced experimentation.


The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Other strategy frameworks:

Additional resources:

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