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The Ringelmann Effect

When working on a team project, perhaps you've observed that while you're pulling your weight some others in the group are loafing. Researchers call that phenomenon the Ringelmann Effect.

In the late 19th Century, engineering professor Maximilian Ringelmann studied the relationship between individual and group effort. Ringelmann had people pull a rope individually while he measured their pull force with a strain gauge. Then he put his subjects in teams and had them pull the rope together. Ringelmann discovered that the group force was not as strong as the individual efforts added together. In other words, while the group pulled more than any one individual did, individual contribution actually declined. The more people Ringelmann added to a group, the greater the decline in personal effort. Three people pulled at only two and a half times the average individual effort, and eight people pulled at a force equal to the combined individual effort of only four people.

Ringelmann attributed his results to what he called "social loafing," the tendency for people to apply less effort when they're part of a group. Some loafers perceive that others in the group are slacking, so they feel justified in exerting less effort. Others assume their laziness will go unnoticed in a group. And some simply believe that their personal efforts have little effect on the team's overall results. It's changing that last perception that will give you the greatest success in improving the effectiveness of your team.

When you share your with others, you show them not only the outcomes you're seeking but also their roles in achieving those results. Once they understand the parts they play in fulfilling your team's vision, members will pull together and accomplish extraordinary work. So have a vision and convince others to share it.

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