How Teamwork Can Damage Productivity

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Work is now commonly organized into teams in most organizations, and conventional wisdom is that working in groups is more productive than individual work. Yet, research on work in groups shows that teamwork can actually inhibit or even damage productivity. Why? One reason is that under the cover of group work people are less productive, sometimes even satisfied that others are the same. Originally, this behavior was called “social loafing,” a term coined by a French professor, Max Ringelmann in the 1890s. His studies showed that people in groups exerted far less effort than they would individually. Since Ringelmann’s studies, others in more modern times have come up with similar results. Bibb Latanne and Samuel Wolf published studies in the 1980s that showed that when working group size increased, work capacity declined. This effect has been found in many cultures and countries around the world. The studies show that social loafing is most detrimental to the productivity of a group when it is carrying out “additive tasks”—ones where the effort of each group member is summed. The studies pointed the following explanations for social loafing: •People in the group expect that others will loaf, which gives them a license to do the same; •When groups are large, individuals become more anonymous, and can become in a sense invisible; •Often groups don’t have set standards so there is no clear ideal set of expectations to perform against. According to researchers S.J. Zaccaro and Stephen Worchel, social loafing in groups can be reduced, and the negative impact on productivity reduced by paying attention to ensuring the group tasks are viewed as important by all group members, and reducing what could be termed the “sucker effect”—the feeling of being duped when an individual is working hard, and all the other group members are loafing. In a similar vein, research studies have shown that creativity is often stifled in groups because of the phenomenon of group...
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