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Ringelmann effect

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

The Ringelmann effect is a reduction in productivity per individual that tends to occur as the numbers of people involved in a workgroup increase. It might be expected that a team of six people could complete as much work as that number of individuals working separately -- or even more, given the synergistic potential of collaboration. Somewhat paradoxically, however, increasing the size of a group can actually make the whole group less productive.

Beyond the optimal number of participants, 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.

Maximilien Ringelmann, a French agricultural engineer, first observed the phenomenon while researching the relationship between performance efficiency and group productivity. Ringelmann claimed 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.

The reduction of individual motivation, which is often considered the main factor involved, is sometimes referred to as social loafing.

This was last updated in February 2019

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