The Ringelmann Effect

The earliest known attempt to investigate the relation between team size and productivity dates back to the experiments perfomed in 1913 by Maximien Ringelmann, a French agricultural engineer.

In these experiments, Ringelmann had male participants pull horizontally on a rope for approximately 5 seconds. Participants pulled on a rope individually, in groups of 7, or in groups of 14. During this time, their maximum pulling effort was recorded via a dynamometer. Those participants who pulled alone exerted a mean force of 85.3 kg per person.When participants pulled in 7- and 14-person groups, the mean force exerted per person was 65.0 kg and 61.4 kg, respectively.

Thus, as group size increased, the average force exerted per individual decreased. Ringelmann found similar results when participants were asked to push a crossbar connected to a two-wheeled cart. When participants pushed alone they exerted more force (170.8 kg), on average, than when they pushed together with another person (154.1 kg).

Ringlemann rationalized that the productivity losses had two main causes:

  1. Individuals became less motivated when more people shared the responsibility for a task
  2. Inefficiencies arose when more individuals had to coordinate their efforts and actions.

Bigger groups mean less personal responsibility. When nobody’s noticing what you are or aren’t doing, the easier it is to keep doing nothing. The work will get done, yes, because someone has to do it. But it doesn’t have to be you. This is also known as social loafing.

The larger the team size, the greater the communication effort required. As a result, as the team grows larger, more time is spent communicating and coordinating the work, leaving less time for another tasks.

Summing-up: The efficiency of a team decreases as its size increases, to the extent that a small group can be more productive than a larger one working on the same task. As a result of the Ringelmann effect, determining appropriate sizes for workgroups can be challenging.


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