Developing the Team

How do groups and teams differ? Early research by Cartwright and Zander (1968) made the distinction that a team is any group of individuals who must interact with each other to accomplish shared objectives. This leads us to identify that all teams are groups but not all groups are teams. Team members have to depended on and support each other to accomplish these shared objectives. Therefore it is important that we recognise the process groups go through in order to become focused and perform at high levels. This most recognised process is Tuckman’s (1965) “Stages of Group Development” stating that groups go through four stages:
  1. Forming – familiarisation; interpersonal relationships formed; team structure developed
  2. Storming – rebellion; resistance to control; interpersonal conflict
  3. Norming – solidarity and co-operation develop
  4. Performing – channel energies for team success

What is recognised as the first published social psychology experiment was undertaken by Norman Triplett in 1897 investigating how individuals worked in groups. What he identified was that competition between cyclists resulted in improved performance; results which he replicated with youths reeling a fishing line. However, as you can assume the scientific rigor and statistical analysis in 1897 was not quite as advanced as today (which has actually identified that there was no significant improvement). Further studies at a similar time were conducted by Ringlemann, who observed that when people were grouped together on a rope pulling task that productivity dropped by 23% when group size reached four people. This has been replicated in numerous other studies into group size and performance. This drop in performance has led to the term ‘social loafing’ – the phenomenon that individuals put in less than 100% effort when in a group.

Social Loafing

So why do individuals not give their all? There are a number of reasons identified for this:
  • Effort matching – generally occurring when there is lack of trust within the group, causing some members to think “why should I put in the effort when others in the group are not”
  • Lack of identifiability – a minimising strategy where individuals can get lost in the crowd (particularly in larger groups) and work only as hard as they deem necessary to gain credit or avoid blame
  • Dispensability – individuals can hide in the crowd and avoid negative consequences of slacking off

The Implications for Teams
  1. Increase the amount of individual self-awareness by giving specific feedback
  2. Increase an individual’s sense of responsibility
  3. Make each task personally involving
  4. Employ a systematic goal setting program
  5. Meetings can be had where social loafing is discussed

The Implications for the Organisation
  1. Allow individuals to make a unique contribution to the team
  2. Allow individuals to express themselves creatively
  3. Require people to spend some time rotating in other positions
  4. Provide opportunities for diversity
  5. Monitor individual performance

It is important for any leader of a team to be able to create cohesion among members to minimise social loafing and ensure productivity. In the next newsletter, I will discuss strategies for developing effective cohesion within a team.