Have you ever worked in a group where some members contributed and others did not? If so, then you know how frustrating it can be. The problem with social loafing—the tendency of certain members of a group to get by with less effort than if they were working alone and who operate under the assumption that others’ efforts will cover their shortfalls—is that it has the potential to negatively impact work product, damage professional relationships, and contaminate workplace culture. Most people are willing to contribute if their individual efforts are acknowledged and appreciated. Social loafing prevents this result. Herein lies the dilemma.
Want to discourage the free-riders from stealing your thunder? Use these essential strategies to increase accountability and discourage social loafing:
1. Keep the team small. When teams grow beyond three to five members, the potential for social loafing is high. If there is a good reason for allowing the group to expand beyond these parameters (such as a significant workload coupled with an extreme deadline), break the team into sub-groups of no more than three members per group. Assign each sub-group a specific theme that can be broken up by task between the individual members. This strategy will help you get the same result as if you had simply limited the original group to three to five members. The goal is to discourage individual assignments from becoming fungible–and people from not fully participating (because the others won’t notice) or doing less work because their efforts are being duplicated elsewhere.
2. Develop the rules of engagement. If you set ground rules for group conduct at the outset, you’ll get less push back. Buy-in is essential when individuals are working so closely together and need to be cohesive to achieve a desired result. Think about the importance of deadlines, accountability and deliverables to your project. How do these factors bring you closer to the desired result? Make sure that the parameters are communicated early and often. Then make sure that they are enforced. If the team thinks that you’re just bluffing, they’ll undermine your authority and you’ll lose credibility.
3. Assign separate and distinct contributions for every team member. One surefire way to make certain that tasks do not become fungible is to make assignments that are separate and distinct. If you assign tasks in this way, no one can rely on another team member to pick up the slack. Each person will have to pull their own weight, which is exactly the point. The best way to create mutually exclusive tasks is to classify project components into specific buckets. For example: financial, communication, technology, oversight and R&D. Not only will this solve the social loafing issue, but it also helps the team to create a clear roadmap for results and assure that no critical aspect has been ignored.
Remember, people are motivated to contribute if their efforts are acknowledged and appreciated. Help the process along by discouraging social loafing with these essential strategies.
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