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Social Loafing

Smartpedia: Social Loafing describes a phenomenon in which individual team members reduce their individual performance due to lack of visibility. In such a situation, 1+1 results in less than 2.

Lazing around in the team

Social loafing describes a phenomenon in which individual team members reduce their individual performance due to lack of visibility. As early as 1913, the French agricultural engineer Maximillien Ringelmann published the results of a series of experiments. He found out that when pulling loads, the overall performance of horses, oxen or even people in groups is smaller than the sum of the possible individual performances. The more people pulled a load at the same time, the lower the performance of each individual. On average, teams of two invested only 93% of their strength, teams of three only 85%, teams of eight only 49%. Ringelmann suspected that the causes were lack of coordination and reduced motivation of the team members. Based on these observations, social loafing is also known as the Ringelmann effect.

​Reasons for Social Loafing

Nowadays, teamwork in projects or in the development of products is widespread. The Agile Manifesto propagates the self-responsibility of the team, Design Thinking focuses on finding common ideas in the team and Coding Dojos promote the development of software with colleagues. Often social loafing occurs

  • in the case of increasing group sizes, when individual performance cannot be measured or is not measured.
  • in the case of services that cannot be allocated to individual individuals.
  • for routine tasks to be performed within a group.
  • if potential idlers can hide in the anonymity of the group.

Avoiding Social Loafing

In order to avoid social loafing, it is advisable to promote the individual attitude of each team member towards the team. This succeeds if …

  • team members perceive themselves as a community of like-minded people and have an inner connection to the team.
  • team members perceive a task as a challenge that can only be solved together.
  • team members associate a positive image and appreciation with the team or see strategic advantages in participation.
  • team members often find each other quickly in crises and the cooperation as a unit also works well at short notice.
  • team members pursue a common goal across company hierarchies. The common interest and the process on the way to the set goal are then in the foreground.

An important reason for the individual performance is the appreciation of the individual performance. It is the best answer to social loafing and can be provided in the team by other team members, by superiors, by other teams, by other employees in the company outside the team or even by independent bodies such as a jury. And this may surprise: also by the individual himself.

Social Loafing

Impulses to discuss:

Is it the lack of value or the lack of visibility of performance that leads to social loafing? And is it even possible to maximise performance over a longer period of time, because after all we are humans and not machines?

Although social loafing occurs in many organisations, why is it rarely addressed in teams?

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Here you can find a video: What is Social Loafing? (Definition and Examples)

Here you can find additional information from our blog:

t2informatik Blog: Social Loafing in agile teams

Social Loafing in agile teams

t2informatik Blog: Cultural differences in projects

Cultural differences in projects