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Ringelmann Effect vs. Agile

  • Berlin, Germany
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agile management

The Ringelmann Effect (a.k.a. social loafing) is basically about people experiencing decreasing productivity when working in groups. We're basically more productive when we work individually to achieve personal goals rather than being teamed up. That was discovered by Prof. Max Ringelmann a hundred years ago in 1913. Today, during my workshop in Berlin at DATFlock 2015, we tried to reproduce that experiment. It seems the French professor was right.


Here is what we did. We created two groups with four people in each of them, all non-native English speakers. Then, both groups received the same task—to create as many words as possible using the letters in a single given word. It's a pretty simple task that just requires some time and creativity.

The first group worked as a team. They had just one piece of paper and one pen to write down the words they found. We called them a co-located team.

The second group of four people worked in a distributed mode—they had four pieces of paper and four pens. They didn't communicate with each other and just created words. They knew that the best performer would receive a prize (a bar of organic chocolate).

I promised a prize to the co-located team too. A very similar chocolate bar.

We gave them both just 5 minutes.

Our result was this: 38 words found by a co-located team and 41 words found by a distributed team. Of course, we removed duplicates and non-English words.

The distributed team was 8 percent more productive than the co-located one.

Of course, this may not be a clear experiment, and we can't use these numbers to really prove anything, but it was interesting to see how groups work and what actually motivates us to achieve results. We had an hour-long discussion afterward in an attempt to find out what each group member felt while working in a group or individually.

You can try to repeat this (or a similar experiment) in your team and check the results. Post them below in the comments; it would be interesting to see whether it does or doesn't work in your case.

Now, my main question. If I understand it right, Agile promotes group responsibility and discourages individualism. How does it go along with the Ringelmann Effect? Any thoughts?