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“I am much more relaxed now” said the young manager ” I have formed a team to work on the problem. They are good guys and I guess they will do a good job.” The manager was making a mistake many of us make. Thinking that people working in teams is the right solution to solve all problems.

The best way to get quality work done is to put together a team, right? Wrong! Research indicates that for many tasks, performance in teams is only 75 % as effective as the performance of the aggregate of those same individuals working alone- the “social loafing” or “free rider effect”.

This was illustrated by Max Ringleman way back in the 1880s! He attached a rope to a dynamometer and got volunteers to pull their hardest. The average force for one man was 85.3 kilograms. Ringleman wondered if with two men the force would be 170.6 kilograms, with three, 255.9 kilograms, and so on. Ringleman took it up to 8 volunteers, predicting a force of 682.4 kilograms. The result surprised him and everyone else! That didn’t happen. The total force went up with each new man, but the average per man went down.

This is called social loafing. In the Ringleman experiment, it turned out the team was pulling at only 75 % of the aggregated work of individuals pulling alone. You must have seen this many times at work. In a team task, individual effort becomes invisible. Without the reward of recognition, motivation goes down. Slacking off also becomes invisible, so there is less pressure to do well. Each one expects the other to do the work.

In training facilitation, I insist that individual effort precede a group task for the very same reason. Team members put in differing amounts of efforts in the group task. Some are wildly enthusiastic, many take the cue from others and do what most others do, some simply goof off.

This does not mean that teamwork doesn’t get you results. Of course it does. But it does not happen automatically. The team leader has to be sensitive to the dynamics affecting a team and its performance. He/she has to engage the team members. Make sure they put in their best efforts and do not merely go through the motions of task completion.

Team members do much better when they realize their individual contributions are being tracked and measured. They take to social loafing when the team leadership is weak. When they think they can get away with less than effective performance.

So, go ahead and assign work in teams but be ready to manage the team effectively for optimal results.

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This is the 69 th of the “A Step A Day “series : To provide perspective and provoke thought to facilitate self-development across a wide spectrum of issues- big and small- crucial for executive success.