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Tug-of-war proves how all teams fail, unless they have one magic ingredient!

It’s not uncommon to be frustrated by the performance of people within your team. It’s OK to grind your teeth about how much more of a burden this puts on you, the leader or manager.

Here’s what’s possible…

There’s one sole-practitioner accountancy firm I work with who have taken the ‘social loafing’ message (see below) whole-heartedly and applied the insights to their firm.

The firm is transformed as a result. The sole-practitioner is doing a 1 to 2 day week taking 13 weeks holiday and being rewarded handsomely!

Here’s the profound yet simple insight:

Way back in the 1880s Max Ringleman (a French anthropologist) experimented on the effectiveness of individuals versus the effectiveness of teams.

He attached a rope to a dynamometer and got volunteers to pull their hardest, like a one-sided tug-of-war.

The average force for one man was 85.3 kilograms.

Ringleman wondered if, with 2 men, the force would be 170.6 kilograms, 255.9 kilograms with 3, and so on up to 8 men.

The result surprised him and everyone else! The total force went up with each new man. But the average per man went down! And Ringleman poetically called this phenomenon ‘social loafing’.

Ringleman’s social loafing showed how a team of 8 pulled less than 80% of the aggregated work of individuals pulling alone. A fifth of the effort went AWOL, more than 20% of effort disappeared!

GET THIS: This is like your team working a four-day week instead of five without you realising it!

This means more than 40 work-days per year lost, for every person in your team (ignoring holidays, that’s 2 months’ work!).

And it’s possible your team is already experiencing social loafing and, even though they turn up for five days, they only do the equivalent of a four day week! It’s hard to spot it of course (they may not even notice it themselves) but the result is profound…

As the saying goes: “’Tis easy to expand the work to fill the time”

Which means that it’s also possible, at no cost to you, to turn a four day week into five.

What could you do with 40 more person days (per person) this next 12 months? And at no extra cost!

Worthy of your attention?

Worth taking some action? Click here for more


What Max Ringleman actually proved was – when individual performance is masked (by others) then performance falls.

Each ‘player’ expects the others to do the work. ‘Slacking’ becomes invisible (and inevitable), because there’s less pressure to do well.

But teamwork is still a powerful force. It’s a powerful force in all successful sports teams. It can be a powerful force in your business team too.

SOLUTION: Prevent social loafing happening – build a culture of accountability in your firm.

To avoid social loafing make your people accountable to their personal goals, accountable to their work tasks and accountable to their responsibilities (every week). When you intertwine their personal goals with the team goals and the company goals and then hold them to account, you’ll start to tap into the missing 20% of the worthwhile work they are capable of.

The magic ingredient is individual AND team accountability

What do you do to build in more accountability?

Your practical next steps…
1. Agree with every individual (start with your key people first) the ways and means of measuring their personal performance – use 6-monthly career development reviews and agree weekly/monthly goal-setting

2. Put them in charge of measuring themselves if you can (very important for your best people – avoids them thinking you don’t trust them). NB work out together what those measures will be

3. Have them report their performance regularly (weekly or monthly), make it visible – hold them to account

Nothing complicated. But rarely done.

You’d be right to call this simple common sense. It’s just not common practice.

Sally Wallwin

Paul (@shrimpers) works exclusively with accountancy firms helping them achieve remarkable results through remarkable practice. Paul has an active LinkedIn group dedicated to marketing for accountants - Marketing for UK accountants in Practice - more leads more often. If you're a manager, partner or marketing manager of an accountancy firm join us. Paul is also the creator of Marketing Services for Accountants and Business Bitesize - go to the products page to find out more...

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