Social Loafing -the phenomenon of a person exerting less effort to achieve a goal when they work in a group than when they work alone.
From a book I'm reading...
One of the first scientists to explore the dynamics of group effort was a guy named Maximilien Ringelmann. In 1913, Ringelmann conducted an experiment in which he asked students to pull on a rope, both individually and in groups, while he measured the force they exerted. The conventional view was that people in a group would have more power collectively than they did alone - in other words, adding people to the pulling group would have a multiplying effect on the force.
But the results were surprising - While the force applied did grow with every new person added, the average force applied by each by each person fell. Rather than amplifying the power of individuals, the act of pulling as a team caused each person to pull less hard than they had while pulling alone. Later researchers coined a name to the phenomenon. They called it social loafing.
A later Fordham study decided to look at whether social loafing could be overcome. They wanted to see whether one person giving a maximum effort could incite other to improve their performances. The scientists grouped their shouters in pairs and, before they began shouting, told them that their partner was a high effort performer. In these situations, something interesting happened. The pairs screamed just as hard together as they had alone. The knowledge that a teammate was giving it their all was enough to prompt people to give more themselves.
Is social loafing real in the workplace? I'd say 100% it is. While high performing teams can do amazing things, the question is what does it take to be a high performing team?
You know some of the answers, right? Goal setting, consistent feedback, task and role clarity within the team, etc. Read deeper on social loafing and you'll find that the lack of clarity related to individual expectations causes many team members to assume/rationalize that other team members will do certain activities - so there's no need for them to act.
The impact of a reported high performer in the Fordham study is interesting as well. Let's say you're at your company (ACME) and while you're a talented gal, you've had it on cruise control for awhile - the work is mundane, the people are mundane and even though some of your work teams aren't producing stellar results, you're still considered a high performer.
Why work harder? You're in a rut.
Suddenly, a new hire shows up and you're told they're from a progressive company and are considered a key hire. They're inserted into 2 of the 4 work groups you participate in at ACME and damn, they start trying to shake things up and get more done - even if it means doing more themselves than others are doing.
What do you do in those circumstances? Deadbeats who are already long gone from an effort perspective might let them do it. But anyone who still has ambition and a desire to be a high performer is forced to step up their game.
Social loafing exists in your company until you create some type of competition to wake people up.
What type of competition is required? Depends on your culture and your team. Could be a key new hire, could be a project chart showing what people are working on or an overall scoreboard that puts the team in direct competition with others - or simply with themselves.
If you want to stop social loafing, introduce competition. Competition is not a dirty word. Don't let a sleepy culture at your company tell you otherwise.