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The larger your team, the greater the loafing

on February 2, 2011

A while ago I was complaining to a friend about the inefficiency of one of my past clients, a major Fortune 500 company that had tens of thousands of employees. There were taking so long to get a simple task done and it was frustrating me. My friend’s response was, “Do you know what is the most efficient organization?…The company that has only one employee.”

The inefficiency problem is often the result of loafing, and it happens when people work in large teams, said Sankara Srinivasa of University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Along with Likoebe Maruping and Lionel Robert also of U. of Arkansas, the three studied employees’ deviant behavior in their paper, “Mechanisms underlying social loafing in technology teams: An empirical Analysis.”

When you work in teams you have other people to which you can shift responsibility, said Srinivasa. His team looked at other factors that could contribute to loafing, but the only variable that was statistically significant for loafing was an increase in team size.

When people know they’re working on a large team, it’s easy to shift responsibility to multiple people.

How do you avoid the inevitability of loafing if you’ve got a huge team? Srinivasa said to try to measure what individuals have done. If you can do that,  you can reduce employees’ ability to shift blame to others. The trick is how do you pull that off without micromanaging. I guess we’ll learn that in the next study.

Stock photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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