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Social loaves don't get enormous turnips

A tug of war looks like team energy in action. Both sides heave and grunt, as one side drags the other a few steps, only to be dragged back again, until at last one team is victorious, and all drop exhausted. They have given their all, each one spurred on by the strength of the others. Have they?

Max Ringleman measured this in the 1880s. He attached a rope to a dynamometer and got volunteers to pull their hardest. The average force for one man was 85.3 kilograms. This meant, if everything stayed the same, two men would apply 170.6 kilograms, three, 255.9 kilograms, and so on. RingIeman took it up to eight volunteers, predicting a force of 682.4 kilograms. It didn't happen. The total force went up with each new man, but the average per man went down.

This is called social loafing. It happens because, in a group, individual effort becomes invisible. Without the reward of recognition, motivation goes down. Slacking off also becomes invisible, so there is less pressure to do well.
It goes against the grain to think that getting a team together to develop a project could have the effect of each one working less hard. But teamwork can still be a powerful force. You just need the right conditions.

Team members have to care about the outcome. If they're not bothered, they rapidly turn into social loaves. One way to get them to care is to intertwine their personal goals with team goals. That was how it was in the story of the enormous turnip. If they wanted their dinner, they had to get that turnip. The result was a highly cohesive team, which only needed the little bit extra that the mouse could give.

In the business world, turnips are not enough. Money isn't either, though it may help. The real pull comes from intangibles, like recognition, accolades, and the glory of success. If each team member achieves something in the course of the team project, they will want more. It's a high-value investment to offer personal opportunities along the path to team success.

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© Copyright 2002 Trans4mation. Reproduced with permission. Any opinions or views contained in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Training Reference.

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