The Ringelmann Effect


Many people who have ever worked in a team have probably faced a situation in which someone on the team clearly does not try very hard to execute their job with full responsibility, does not offer 100 percent, and assumes that someone else on the team will do it anyhow. The social laziness effect, also known as the Ringelmann effect, is a highly prevalent phenomena that occurs during the cooperation process. Let's take a closer look at what this effect is, how it manifests itself, and how to respond in such situations.

The Ringelmann effect states that as the team's composition grows larger, team members' output begins to deteriorate. The French agricultural engineer Maximilian Rengelmann discovered this phenomenon in studies he originally conducted with animals, with the goal of determining the number of draught animals needed to carry various objects.

In 1913, after discovering that his observations were similar to collaboration, he conducted the first human experiment. One of these trials required the guys to pull the rope individually at first, then in groups of seven and fourteen. Each step of the test lasted approximately 5 seconds, yielding the following results.

A dynamometer was used to test the pulling force, and the following characteristics were recorded: the maximum individual pull was 85.3 kg, the maximum pull in groups of 7 people was 65 kg, and the maximum pull in groups of 14 people was 61.4 kg. The outcomes, well, they speak for themselves.

As a result, Rengelmann devised a method for determining each group member's individual contribution:

C = (100 – 7) / (K – 1)

C - the average individual contribution of a group member;
K - the number of group members.

Consequently, despite the fact that members of the group (team) believe they are giving their all, there is a loss of motivation and the effect of social laziness, in which people working in a group put in less effort and rely on their colleagues to complete tasks. As a result, both purposeful and unintentional social laziness exist. So, what are the causes of social apathy? The following are examples of such factors:

- increasing the team composition: more people are involved in teamwork, and more participants have confidence that somebody else can do the work;

- lack of external evaluation of work: if a person works on a task alone, knowing that he is being watched and his work is subject to evaluation, he approaches the task more responsibly;

- gender structure of the group: it has been scientifically proven that women are less socially lazy in the workplace than men.

So what can be done and how to avoid the Ringelmann effect? It can be done by applying the following:

- making each team member identifiable and strengthening his or her role;

- minimizing the opportunity to shift roles, functions, and tasks;

- focusing on the motivation and reward system for specific results and accomplishments;

- goals need to be set clearly and concretely, so that each person knows what he or she is trying to accomplish;

- reinforce team spirit, belonging and a sense of "we".

By following these tips, teamwork can be maximized and the potential for social laziness can be minimized.