Social Loafing

We’ve all been on a team where 20 percent of the team members do 80 percent of the work – a few board members recruit for the PAC, a couple of organizations in your coalition make the effort to mobilize their members on an important issue, or one member of your GR staff reviews and edits the department’s Web site.

I grew up on a farm, and there are great lessons from the farm. A German agricultural engineer named Max Ringelmann studied farm labor efficiency and found that productivity decreases in large work groups (for me, that meant a work group of two, as my brother did most of the hard labor—and yes, I was the social loafer). Fifty years later, Kravitz and Martin found that on an almost molecular level, human beings simply do not work as hard in groups as they do when they work alone. This is social loafing.

It’s human nature for motivation to diminish in a team setting. As a team member, we believe there’s a possibility that others can or will do almost all of the work necessary for the team to succeed. This means that “free riders” benefit from the work of others. The free riders hurt our team performance.