It’s not uncommon to be frustrated by the performance of people within your team. It’s OK to grind your teeth about how much more of a burden this puts on you the leader or manager.

Here’s what’s possibe…

There’s one sole-practitioner accountancy firm I work with and they have taken ‘social loafing’ message whole-heartedly and applied the insights to their firm.

The firm is transformed as a result. The sole-practitioner is doing a 1 to 2 day week taking 13 weeks holiday and being rewarded handsomely.

Here’s the profound yet simple insight:

Way back in the 1880s Max Ringleman (A French anthropologist) experimented on the effectiveness of individuals versus the effectiveness of teams.

He attached a rope to a dynamometer and got volunteers to pull their hardest, like a one-sided tug-of-war.

The average force for one man was 85.3 kilograms.

Ringleman wondered if, with 2 men, the force would be 170.6 kilograms, 255.9 kilograms with 3, and so on up to 8 men.

The result surprised him and everyone else!The total force went up with each new man. But the average per man went down! And Ringleman poetically called this phenomenon ‘social loafing’.

Ringleman’s social loafing showed how a team of 8 pulled less than 80% of the aggregated work of individuals pulling alone. A fifth of the effort went AWOL, more than 20% of effort disappeared!

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GET THIS: This is like your team working a four day week instead of five without you realising it!


This means more than 40 work-days per year lost, for every person in your team (ignoring holidays, that’s 2 months work!).

And it’s possible your team is already experiencing ‘social loafing’ and, even though they turn up for five days, they only do the equivalent of a four day week! It’s hard to spot it of course (they may not even notice it) but the result is profound…

As the saying goes: “Tis easy to expand the work to fill the time”

You can, of course, at no cost to you turn a four day week into five.

What could you do with 40 more person days (per person) this next 12 months? And at no extra cost!

Worthy of your attention?

Worth taking some action?

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What Max Ringleman actually proved was – when individual performance is masked (by others) then performance falls.

Each ‘player’ expects the others to do the work. ‘Slacking’ becomes invisible (and inevitable), because there’s less pressure to do well.

But teamwork is still a powerful force. It’s a powerful force in all successful sports teams. It can be a powerful force in your business team too.


SOLUTION: Prevent ‘social loafing’ happening – build a culture of accountability in your business.

To avoid ‘social loafing’ make your people accountable to their personal goals, accountable to their work tasks and accountable to their responsibilities (every week). When you intertwine their personal goals with the team goals, and with the company goals and hold them to account then you’ll start to tap into the missing 20% of THE worthwhile work they are capable of.

The magic ingredient is individual AND team accountability

What do you do to build in more accountability?

Your practical next steps…
1.    Agree with every individual (start with your key people first) the ways and means of measuring their personal performance – use 6-monthly career development reviews and agree weekly/monthly goal-setting

2.    Put them in charge of measuring themselves if you can (very important for your best people – avoids them thinking you don’t trust them). NB work out together what those measures will be

3.    Have them report their performance regularly  (weekly or monthly), make it visible – hold them to account
Nothing complicated. But rarely done.

You’d be right to call this simple common sense. Its just not common practice.

Your next step:

Goal setting, career development reviews and accountability are easy to talk about and harder to do. Have a look at Patrick Lencioni’s book, 5 Dysfunctions Of A Team, for further guidance on trust, commitment and accountability (and some other good stuff too!). Also check out Verne Harnish’s book about Rockerfeller’s habits the best £8 I spent in 2012!

Paul Shrimpling