The Ringelmann Effect

Together we are able to change the world.

The Ringelmann Effect

Are there any of us, the students, who have never worked in groups? That is a very common activity in today's studying and working environment. From an early age, we are taught that “many a little makes a mickle”. But to be honest, when working in groups, have you ever realized that the more members we have, the less effective the team will be?

There is a fact, that as the number of team members increases, the working process will stem more problems than you think. And accordingly, the performance and final result are not as expected. When working in groups, there are individual and social factors that will affect each member, thus, hinder the initial goals. To explain this phenomenon, let's find out the Ringelmann psychological effect - the cause of teamwork becoming an negative obsession for many people. And from there, we can try to keep unproductive teamworking to a minimum.

What is the Ringelmann Effect?

Ringelmann effect describes a common productivity problem with teamwork: the number of members increases inversely with performance. Individual factors are the main cause of this phenomenon, especially the loss of motivation and the level of effectiveness when working in groups.

This effect was first studied by French agricultural engineer Max Ringelmann in 1913. He conducted a game call “tug of war” in which participants had to pull a rope alone or in groups. The results show that pulling in groups takes less effort than pulling alone. According to Ringelmann, teams do not reach their full potential because different interpersonal processes reduce the group's overall capacity. In particular, two separate processes have been identified as potential sources of reduced team productivity: loss of motivation and coordination problems. [3]

In studying environment, this is the most evident in group assignments and projects. Some members have to "carry the whole team" because others don't invest the same amount of time and effort. This effect is a concrete example that goes against the statement "together we can change the world".

How does the Ringelmann effect work?

If you've ever had the experience of being “the whole team and the dog under the wagon", you will understand that teamwork is not always smooth sailing. When the amount of work each person takes on is uneven, while the final result is representative for the whole group, it is such a tragedy because the effort of each person is not accurately assessed. To clarify this issue, let's take a closer look at the psychosocial factors that cause dependence of teammates in the co-working process.

Individual influence

According to social impact theory, each individual in the group exerts an independent source of influence. So, as team size increases, the individual influence decreases, leading motivation and productivity to a decrease.

In other words, when members feel they have no value or less influence to the final result, they won’t give their best. This is deeply reinforced when one member shows up “brighter” or more "enthusiastic" than the others, then the others will step back and let that person lead, even take over.

Evaluation potential theory

According to this theory, when people join a group assignment or project, they will evaluate the potential results of that work as collective rather than individual. As a result, some members think they can safely "do less and enjoy more" without being criticized. This also comes from the mentality that one's efforts are not recognized individually, but are "sink in the collective". Accordingly, they won’t see the meaning of investing more effort since the efforts of all members are considered to be equal.

Diffusion of responsibility

We are not pushed to take actions when there is presence of others.

This dispersion of responsibilities arises from many reasons, in which, the two most basic and obvious causes are the lack of personal responsibility and the tendency of looking for guidance. Most of us assume that, in a public setting, it is not necessary to take responsibility and act. “There are other people here, they will do something about it” is the thinking of vast majority  in such situations. Moreover, in quite a few cases, we may know what we need to do but just doubt our actions. Eventually, it leads to our backward thinking that this is a "general responsibility", so our efforts won’t have much impact on the whole result. Typically when working in a group, some people don't do their work or just go around the table because they think someone else will fill the slack anyway. But if everyone thinks so, then who’s gonna take responsibility?

How to overcome the Ringelmann effect?

Reduce the number of members

Sometimes it is necessary to limit the number of members in a group or organization. When there is a right amount of personnel, the work will be divided equally among each member. This helps each person acknowledge their importance and responsibility in the team. And when members feel the weight of duty, they will do the work with a more thoughtful attitude. As a plus, the feeling of being recognized/ proud of their contributions is also a source of motivation for each person to fully complete their work.

Moreover, limiting the number of members is also easier for team leader to control the work process of each member, as well as their results.

Set goals and targets

Before jumping into the work, the team should set a clear common goal. This will be a guideline when there are any team member who doesn't know what to do. Besides, each individual should also has his/her own goals and targets shared with the group. This will create motivation to complete tasks for each individual and link everyone in a line.

In co-working process, the whole team should constantly remind each other about the common goal and targets. Another suggestion is that the team can break down deadlines and tasks to be completed partly, instead of saving everything to the final deadline.

In addition, in-kind rewards such as small party or cafe hangout after acomplishing the project also help to boost the morale of the members and connect everyone, creating a comfortable space and time for them to look back on the whole process, share experiences and withdraw valuable lessons.

Assign specific tasks, give appropriate feedback in time

Specific work will help emphasize the importance of each team member. This process is reflected by assigning for each person the right work, which fits their expertise, strengths and appropriate proportion of time.

In addition, the whole team should have a tracking tool for the work progress. In the studying environment, there doesn’t require such measurement tools as in working environment, so punctual comment/evaluation among team members is an appropriate and effective method to improve the quality of work. Especially for long-term projects, the team leader should "check" the members several times during the entire process. This approach helps detect problems and fix them in time, instead of letting everyone finish their part and then check all in once.

I tried to give a look at the problem of individual dependence in teamwork, explained the causes of this phenomenon from a socio-psychological perspective, as well as given possible solutions to this problem, which are not new but always plagues in schools and in in school/university/workplace. Hopefully, this information will help students improve their teamwork life.


  1. Kerr, N. L., & Bruun, S. E. (1983). The dispensability of member effort and group motivation losses: Free-rider effects. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 5, 1-15.
  1. Ringelmann, M. (1913) "Recherches sur les moteurs animés: Travail de l'homme" [Research on animate sources of power: The work of man], Annales de l'Institut National Agronomique, 2nd series, vol. 12, pages 1-40. Available on-line (in French) at:
  1. Wikipedia:

Text by

Tran Dieu Huyen