Solutions to the Social Loafing Lifestyle

In a previous post, I talked about social loafing. Now I’m going to talk about how we change the social loafing dynamic.

Identify Contributions

Identify team member contributions. What have coalition members done to advance the cause? Be specific, and enumerate contributions that you want duplicated. Are the contributions distributed to the coalition members or posted on an easily accessible Web site?

What about your faithful PAC recruiters? What about your PAC board members who help answer tough PAC questions or find colleagues to help recruit others? Where are
their achievements noted?

Ditto for your grassroots team leaders. How many new members have they recruited during the last quarter? Who consistently responds to your calls to action?

Anyone who has worked in sales knows that sales performance data are posted throughout the organization. This tactic also helps inculcate your culture with the importance of your coalition, grassroots, and PAC team contributions.

Help Them Use Their Brains

Social loafing tends to increase when team tasks don’t involve interesting or attractive work. People want to perform interesting tasks. My research with Fortune’s “Power 25” revealed that one of the main ways that they keep their “varsity” grassroots team members motivated is to delegate important work to them. Several organizations reported that their grassroots team leaders edit staff-created volunteer materials, and others distribute issue position papers to volunteer team members for review before publication. Other organizations ask key volunteers to attend meetings and conferences on their behalf. The work is stimulating and acknowledges the team members’ value.

Do you delegate substantial work to your team members? Are your PAC board members required to do homework on candidates being considered for contributions because they can impact a contribution decision, or are they a “rubber stamp” board?

Recognize Your Team Members

As many of you who regularly read my articles know, recognition and reward are two different things. Both should be strategic, but recognition tends to motivate more than reward. The goal is to recognize the behavior you want more of. Greenberg’s research showed that it is more important for team members to feel appreciated and acknowledged by fellow team members than by outsiders. He also found that people are more likely to cheat and steal from the organization when they feel they’ve been unfairly treated. Perhaps this portends a new way to test morale: The more sticky pads and pens that are missing, the worse the organizational morale.

Do you promote recognition in front of team members, or do you compliment team members in private? Any acknowledgement is better than silence, but why not maximize the opportunity to reduce social loafing?

Build Team Member Trust

Cohesive teams are less likely to experience loafing. When there is friendship among the members, the sense of safety and trust within the group facilitates equal action by group members.

Again, this is another finding that became apparent in my Fortune “Power 25” research. When I asked the organization leaders how they helped keep and motivate their high-performing team members, “personal relationships” was one of the top three factors mentioned. It’s hard to say no to one’s friends.

Do you facilitate trust and friendship among team members?

Create a Team Pledge

I’m a big believer in volunteer role descriptions for individuals and teams. Ideally, teams should also have a statement of objectives and practices—a “pledge,” if you will. It should be in writing and widely accessible. According to Katzenbach and Smith, the best teams invest a tremendous amount of time and effort exploring and agreeing on a purpose that belongs to the team collectively and individually. They also found that the best teams translate their common purpose into the specific performance roles. Without this, teams can degenerate into a lot of activity without achievement.

Many of my clients affectionately refer to me as a “measurement Nazi” of sorts, so I rejoiced at finding my belief validated in the research. We have an obligation to be as precise as possible as to our intended outcomes, and how those outcomes are manifested in specific behavior. We need specific benchmarks and performance indicators to make the whole effort worthwhile.

Limit Team Size

Olson and Kurr have found that as teams get larger, personal contributions become less important. In short, as team size increases, feelings of anonymity increase and, you guessed it, social loafing increases. While team size can’t always be controlled, the literature reveals that teams of five to six are ideal. If you’ve never been in a coalition that small or had grassroots teams that small, perhaps there are ways to break down your existing membership to small subcommittee teams to increase

A national healthcare association client asked me to facilitate a team meeting to completely redesign the advocacy website. The association wanted results in one day. Despite never having witnessed such team productivity before, I agreed to facilitate the meeting. Thankfully, there were six people in the meeting, and in five hours, we came up with a new website concept. Best of all, the team size allowed for equal participation among the team members. It was a true collaboration rather than an influence contest.