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Ringelmann effect: Studies of group size and group performance

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Ringelmann effect: Studies of group size and group performance

Under the name Ringelmann effect, there is a tendency according to which there is an inverse relationship between the number of a group of people and its productivity.

When it comes to working in a group, there is one mistake that is often made, namely that more people participate in a group than necessary, which affects their overall productivity.

We can observe such situations everywhere - from working in a team of employees from any organization to collaboration on a team basis between students or pupils when preparing a joint project or presentation.

What is the Ringelmann effect?

Maximilian Ringelmann (1861–1931) was a professor of agricultural engineering at the French National Institute of Agriculture.

In 1913, Ringelmann discovered that when members of a group worked together on a task, it led to significantly less effort on their part than when individual members acted alone.

Ringelmann conducted experiments in tug-of-war competitions in which people participated alone or in a group of two, three, and eight participants. He measured the pulling force with a dynamometer and made curious discoveries:

When one participant stands on both sides of the rope, the pulling force of the rope from each of them is approximately 63 kg.

When two participants stand on both sides of the rope, the pulling force is not 126 kg, ie. 63 kg. multiplied by two, and 118 kg. or there is a loss of 8 kg.

When there are three participants on each side of the rope, the pulling force of the rope is not 189 kg, ie. 63 kg. multiplied by three, and 160 kg. or there is a loss of 29 kg.

When there are eight participants on each side of the rope, the pulling force of the rope is not 504 kg, ie 63 kg. multiplied by eight, and 248 kg. or there is a loss of as much as 256 kg. compared to the potential of the participants.

Ringelmann concludes that the loss of productivity of the group increases with an increasing number of the group.

This inverse relationship between group size and productivity became known as the Ringelmann Effect.

What causes the Ringelmann effect?

Thanks to the efforts of Ringelmann, but also other researchers, it is clear that as the number of a group increases, productivity decreases due to three types of losses:

Motivational losses - the tendency to transfer the performance of work from one participant to another, because it is impossible to determine the contribution of individual participants in a group, and because usually, no one wants to be burdened with maximum work and thus allow others to roll. This phenomenon is also known as "Social laziness".

Coordination losses - participants in the group may not pull the rope in the right direction or may not use their potential force. This happens when people fail to organize and combine their strengths and qualities productively.

Relational losses - as the number of participants in the group increases, each individual receives less and less support than the others. This includes emotional support, help at work, help with information to solve various problems, etc.

Practice shows that small groups are often more cohesive, and large groups find it difficult to maintain the same close relationships.

Taking into account all types of losses, we can draw the following conclusion: group or team productivity is a quantity that depends on potential productivity, motivational losses, coordination losses, and relational losses.


Group productivity = Potential productivity - Motivational losses - Coordination losses - Relational losses.

How to neutralize the Ringelmann effect?

If you are the leader of a group of people (department, branch, directorate, team, etc.), you can use some of the following techniques:

Determine the ideal size of your group. Some organizations use the Two Pizzas rule (a discovery by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos) to build a team, which means the team should never need more than two pizzas to eat. Or, the optimal number of the group, so that there are no excessive losses in productivity, is probably 5-9 people, and the figure varies according to the appetite of the team. In any case, if a team becomes a two-digit number, it is probably already too big.

Keep people motivated. Regardless of the size of the team, but especially for larger teams, it is important to pay attention to people's motivation to ensure that they have a clear vision of what they need to achieve, as well as a strong commitment and enthusiasm for high-quality work.

In this regard, it is useful to know and use theories and models of workplace motivation such as those of McLeland, Orphan, Adams and Amabile, and Cramer.

Learn how to successfully manage a team. The teams have a special nature, rules, and dynamics. It is useful to know the main types of teams, stages of team development, team decisions, and weaknesses in teamwork. This way you will be able to avoid many coordination and relational losses in the joint work.

Such actions help to reduce motivational, coordination, and relational losses to achieve higher overall productivity when working in a group or team. Read more: Why do teams and organizations fall victim to Parkinson's Law?


Managers often try to solve problems at work simply by "throwing" new people into it.

Ringelmann found that the group's loss of productivity increased as the group grew.

Such a conclusion supports the idea that more quantity does not automatically mean higher quality. In the context of a group or teamwork, the correct principle is "Less is more".

When someone offers you help with a job, the forces double, but the speed of execution slows down. Or, the more people complete a task, the slower the process. This paradox has been noticed, studied, and formulated by scientists since the 19th century.

More people may make the job easier, but at the same time, it is neither easier nor faster for any of them. Scientists have even coined a term for this phenomenon. They call it "Social Laziness."

When it comes to group interaction, many reasons for the emergence of social laziness immediately arise: everyone has their own pace of work, resources, and characteristics of the ability to communicate in a group. And if one of the groups lags behind the others in any of these parameters, the probability of slowing down the work of the whole group begins to increase sharply.

This pattern gets known as the "Ringelmann effect". As early as 1861, the French professor of agricultural engineering Max Ringelm was trying to understand why if five times more people were added to a task than planned, the task was not accelerated 5 times, but quite the opposite.

To investigate this phenomenon, Ringelmann devised a simple experiment: he asked several people to play tug of war. The first time - individually, then together. Thus he established the following dependence: Three people pulled about 2.5 times harder than one. By the way of logic, six should pull with five times more force.

Nothing of the kind! In the next stage, 8 people lined up on the rope and it turned out that they were pulling a total of four times harder. And then, the more participants became, the more the pulling force decreased.

Based on these results, Ringelmann also compiled a special formula, which calculates if the capacity of one person is 100 kg. traction, then two pull by 93% of the sum of their abilities, three - by 86%. And for eight people - the figures fall to 51%.

What is the explanation? "Social laziness", i.e. when one works alone, one makes every effort. If in a team, he unloads the maximum responsibility from himself and "distributes" it to the other members of the group. The more they are, the less effort everyone puts in because they rely on others to make up for it.

It should be noted that to this day no method has been found to overcome the "Ringelmann effect". Teamwork is not an unconditional advantage. But, still, there is a way to improve team results. It's just that everyone should have specific obligations, the responsibility for the implementation of which should be their own.

The Ringelmann effect in psychology

During an experiment, most ordinary people were forced to lift weights. For each of them was fixed the maximum that can lift. Then the people were united in groups, first in pairs, then in fours and eight people.

The expectation was that if one person could conditionally lift 100 kg, then two would have to lift either 200 kg or more. The myth of group work already existed, consisting in the fact that the group achieves greater results than the sum of the individual results of its members individually.

Two people lifted only 93% of the sum of their indicators. And eight people lifted only 49%.

The results were checked many times after that with other tasks. For example, when pulling a rope from two groups of people. But again, the results were the same. As the number of people in the group increased, the percentage inevitably fell.

A friend recently mentioned a pretty good historical example of this effect. 60 senators were involved in the plot of the Roman senators for the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar, but when the act itself took place, there were only 23 stab wounds on Caesar's body. Typical project work.

The reason for this behavior is clear. When I rely only on myself, I make every effort, and in the group, I willingly or unwillingly hide. For better or worse, social technology has not yet found a way to counteract this effect. And it will always be good to take this into account when collectivists tell us how good it is for society to have everything arranged by group, collective efforts.

Questions and Answers

Q1: What is the Ringelmann Effect?

A1: The Ringelmann Effect, also known as social loafing, refers to the phenomenon where individual effort decreases as the size of a group increases. In other words, as more people are added to a group, each individual's contribution to the group's task or goal tends to diminish.

Q2: What factors contribute to the Ringelmann Effect?

A2: Several factors contribute to the Ringelmann Effect. One primary factor is the diffusion of responsibility, where individuals feel less personally accountable for the group's outcome, leading to reduced effort. Additionally, coordination challenges in larger groups can lead to decreased motivation and productivity among individual members.

Q3: How has the Ringelmann Effect been studied?

A3: Researchers have conducted various studies to investigate the Ringelmann Effect. Classic experiments involving rope-pulling tasks have shown that as more individuals participate in the task, the average individual effort decreases. Similar studies have been conducted in different contexts, such as academic settings, sports teams, and workplace environments, to understand its impact on group performance.

Q4: What are the implications of the Ringelmann Effect for group performance?

A4: Understanding the Ringelmann Effect has significant implications for group performance. It suggests that increasing the size of a group may not necessarily lead to proportional increases in productivity. In fact, larger groups may experience reduced efficiency and effectiveness due to social loafing, impacting the overall performance and success of the group.

Q5: How can organizations mitigate the Ringelmann Effect?

A5: Organizations can implement several strategies to mitigate the Ringelmann Effect. Clear and well-defined individual roles and responsibilities within the group can reduce the diffusion of responsibility. Fostering a strong sense of team identity and belonging can enhance intrinsic motivation and commitment among group members. Effective communication and coordination mechanisms can prevent challenges that arise in larger groups and maintain individual engagement.

Q6: Can the Ringelmann Effect be observed in all group settings?

A6: While the Ringelmann Effect has been widely observed in different contexts, its strength and impact may vary based on factors such as the nature of the task, individual motivation, and the level of group cohesion. Some tasks may be less affected by social loafing, especially when individual contributions are easily identifiable and essential for task completion.

Q7: What are the historical origins of the Ringelmann Effect?

A7: The Ringelmann Effect is named after French engineer Maximilien Ringelmann, who conducted rope-pulling experiments in the late 1800s. He observed that individual effort decreased as more people pulled on the rope together, leading to the formulation of the social loafing theory.

Q8: How does the Ringelmann Effect impact team dynamics?

A8: The Ringelmann Effect can impact team dynamics negatively. As social loafing increases, team cohesion and collaboration may suffer, and members might rely excessively on others, leading to reduced overall performance and a potential decline in team morale.

Q9: Are there any positive aspects of group collaboration despite the Ringelmann Effect?

A9: Despite the challenges posed by the Ringelmann Effect, group collaboration still offers several positive aspects. Diverse perspectives and collective problem-solving can lead to innovative solutions. Effective team dynamics, with strong leadership and a clear sense of purpose, can mitigate social loafing and foster high-performance outcomes.

Q10: How can leaders leverage the Ringelmann Effect to improve group performance?

A10: Leaders can leverage their awareness of the Ringelmann Effect to implement strategies that optimize group performance. Encouraging individual accountability, setting clear performance expectations, and providing regular feedback can motivate team members to contribute actively. Moreover, fostering a positive team culture and emphasizing the value of individual contributions can mitigate social loafing and enhance overall group effectiveness.

About the author

Lucas Augustin, Writer at Business Value-Oriented Principles

Lucas Augustin is a lecturer in business and management with over 20 years of practical experience in managing teams and organizations.

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