The Ringelmann Effect – Enhancing Efficiency Through Teamwork

From a young age, we are often taught the saying “many hands make light work.” However, have you ever noticed that when working in a group, the more people there are, the less efficient the group becomes?

As the number of group members increases, the process of working together can lead to more challenges than you might expect. Individual and social factors both influence each team member, hindering the initial learning and working process. The explanation for this phenomenon lies in the Ringelmann Effect, which has become a significant concern for many.

What is the Ringelmann Effect?

The Ringelmann Effect is a phenomenon that describes a common productivity issue in group work: the increase in the number of people is inversely proportional to the work’s effectiveness. Individual factors are the primary cause of this phenomenon, particularly the motivation of each individual and their effectiveness in teamwork. The Ringelmann Effect, or social loafing, is a psychological term used to describe the phenomenon where individuals working in a group exert less effort compared to when they work independently.

Ringelmann effect As group size increases – increased likelihood of co-ordination problems occurring and the performance of an individual decreasing.

71 years later, psychologist Alan Ingham decided to delve deeper into what Ringelmann had discovered.

In a study conducted in 1974, Ingham blindfolded the participants and gave them a rope to hold. One end of this rope was attached to a machine simulating the pulling force of an opposing team.

The participants were led to believe that they had many teammates and were required to pull with all their strength. In the second round, they were asked to pull alone, even though in both rounds, they were actually pulling alone.

According to the measurements, on average, participants’ efforts decreased by about 18% when they believed they were working in a group.

The research by Ingham and Ringelmann introduced the concept of social loafing into the field of psychology. It revealed that in the same task, the effort put forth when working in a group is less than when working independently.

How Does the Ringelmann Effect Work?

If you have ever experienced the challenge of working in a team, you will understand that group work does not always go smoothly. Various social and psychological factors affect the team’s performance throughout the process.

The Influence of Each Individual According to social impact theory, each individual within a group creates an independent source of influence. Therefore, as the group size increases, their influence decreases, affecting motivation and work productivity.

In other words, when team members feel that they have no value or influence on the final outcome, they are less likely to put in their full effort. This is especially true when there is a standout member or someone who takes the lead, causing others to step back and let that person lead, or even to become passive and let them do all the work.

Potential Assessment Theory

According to this theory, results are evaluated as a group rather than individually. As a result, some members may feel comfortable “doing less and gaining more” without being criticized. This also stems from the feeling that their efforts are not individually recognized but are “submerged within the group.” In such cases, they do not perceive the significance of putting in extra effort because the effort is evenly attributed.

Diffusion of Responsibility

The saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” aptly describes this phenomenon. We tend to feel less pressure to take action when others are present. We subconsciously perceive it as a “shared responsibility,” so our individual efforts do not have a significant impact on the collective.

For example, in a group, some individuals may not contribute or may only perform a small portion of their assigned tasks, assuming that others will compensate. However, if everyone thinks the same way, the end result is that no one takes responsibility.

This aspect of the Ringelmann Effect is somewhat similar to the bystander effect. However, the bystander effect involves social influence, causing individuals to remain passive for fear of being judged by others. In contrast, in the Ringelmann Effect, individuals tend to “lean on” others due to their feeling of complacency.

The Influence of Parkinson’s Law

According to Parkinson’s Law, when there is more time to complete a task, people tend to use up all the available time even if it is not necessary, without necessarily improving efficiency. In many cases, people also tend to believe that a task is more difficult and requires more effort than it actually does.

A common consequence of this in an organizational context is overstaffing, where more people are hired than necessary to complete the work. This leads to cumbersome administrative structures that do not necessarily improve work productivity.

How to Overcome the Ringelmann Effect for Effective Teamwork?

Reducing the Number of Team Members Sometimes, limiting the number of team members in a group or organization is necessary. When there is an appropriate number of personnel, tasks can be evenly distributed among team members. This helps each person perceive their importance and maintain control over the overall outcome.

Setting Clear Common and Individual Goals Before starting a task, the entire team should establish a clear common goal. This serves as a guiding principle when any team member is unsure of their role. Additionally, each individual should set individual goals and share them with the team. This motivates each team member to complete their tasks and stay connected with others.

During the teamwork process, the team should continuously remind each other of the common goal or achievements they are working towards. Tangible rewards, such as a shared meal or a picnic after completing a project, can also be effective in boosting morale.

Assigning Specific Tasks, Providing Timely and Relevant Feedback Specific task assignments emphasize the importance of each team member’s role within the group. This is reflected in how tasks are initially delegated based on expertise, strengths, and appropriate time allocation for each individual.

This is crucial, as seen in the tug-of-war scene from the show Squid Game. By strategically positioning team members according to their strengths, Gi-hun’s team, which included women and elderly members, managed to defeat their physically stronger opponents.

In addition, the team should have a tool to monitor the progress of each member’s work. Providing timely feedback and evaluations are essential for improving performance. Especially in long-term projects, the team leader should “check-in” with team members several times throughout the process. This approach helps identify and address issues in a timely manner, rather than waiting for everyone to complete their tasks before reviewing them.