Is the overall performance of a team less than, the same as, or greater than the sum of its parts? Ringelman, a French agronomist, found the answer: less. He came to this conclusion after studying of a group of men who were pulling on a rope. According to the laws of physics, four people who pull on a rope will exert four times the force as one person. However, Ringelman’s study showed that in reality the force exerted by a group of four was only two and a half times bigger than the force exerted by a lone individual. And when the number of men was increased to eight, the force was less than four times bigger. The rules of physics won’t help us to solve this conundrum. However, if we consider the motivation of the men involved, we may be able to find an explanation for Ringelman’s thought-provoking findings. The combined efforts of large teams are diluted “as if by magic” by group dynamics. The greater the number of people in the group, the greater our tendency not to pull our weight (no pun intended) and to think: “The others are taking it easy, so why shouldn’t I?” Or, to put it in a company context, “Why should I work harder if I only earn the same as the others?”

At the moment there is a lot of talk about how we all need to make an effort, both in companies and in society at large. However, we would do well to bear in mind that many people may think: “Why should I make more of an effort if my neighbour is not?” In times such as these, it is especially important for companies to act coherently:

  • Leading by example. For instance, if you introduce strict new rules on the consumption of stationary in the office, you can forget about putting any slap-up lunches on the company credit card.
  • Recognizing teams’ performance. You can’t, on the other hand, demand more of a group of people without, on the other, giving them plaudits when they all pull together (with or without a rope) and meet their targets.
  • Acknowledging the contribution of individuals. Companies must develop systems which enable them to track individual performance and to reward those who contribute significant added value to the company.
Be Sociable, Share!