• Ben Kinerman-Daltrey

Startups & Social Loafing

Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos’ created his “two pizza rule” – which means that if a team cannot be fed by two pizzas, it is too big!

In a startup environment, we may think from time to time that hiring more employees will solve a lot of problems. If we have a larger team, the quicker things will be achieved, right?

Well, not necessarily. Take a step back and think twice before posting that new job advertisement. Several studies have shown that more employees could actually slow down overall productivity levels - and that smaller teams result in better collaboration between employees and more accountability.

In addition to his “two pizza rule”, Jeff Bezos wrote a letter to his stakeholders in 2013 where he emphasized the advantages of having a small team, stressing that it sparks innovation and creativity. This decentralised distribution of invention throughout the company – not limited to the company’s senior leaders – is the only way to get robust, high-throughput innovation,” he stated.

Before deciding to recruit new team members for your startup, think carefully before you hire too many at once. You may realize that one new hire might be enough, over the three new hires that you assumed you needed. When the group size grows, it is more of a challenge to notice the efforts and advancement of each team member; and when the work of each employee goes unrecognized, social loafing may occur. As a result, employees may lose intrinsic motivation, feeling like other people will substitute for the gaps they leave.

This mindset can be applied to anything involving a large number of people where we feel like our input doesn't matter too much. Why enter a competition for a prize when thousands of other people have already entered? What are the chances of winning? Similarly, in a meeting room of 30 people, we can choose to sit in silence and ponder about what to cook for dinner that evening - whereas in a meeting room with 4-8 people it becomes obvious when someone is lost in thought, and there is more pressure on each person to contribute and take part.

“The larger the group, the more likely it is that social loafing will occur. For example, if you have ten members of a group working on a project, it is easier for individuals who are not motivated or productive to hide because there are more people to pick up the slack.” (

The Discovery of Social Loafing

Max Ringlemann, a French agricultural engineer was one of the first people to look closely at the concept of social loafing, back in 1913. He carried out an experiment where he asked volunteers to pull a rope, both in teams and alone. When working alone to pull the rope, the volunteers tried very hard as they had no one else to rely on. The effort was reduced when pulling the rope as a team.

A few reasons why social loafing may occur...

Motivation (or lack of it)

Employees who are not motivated by certain tasks may take part in social loafing as team sizes expand.

Dispersal of workload

If people are not solely responsible for projects and feel less accountable for the total outcome, they may engage in social loafing. When their individual input into a task or project doesn’t have much impact on the overall result, they may be less motivated to try their best.

Lack of trust in other colleagues

If members of the team are suspected to procrastinate and avoid work, others may follow to avoid baring more responsibility and escape covering for people who put in little effort and receive the same appraisal later.

In contrast to the above idea, a less motivated employee may slack off if other team members are enthusiastic about a project, taking advantage of those who are willing to take on their share of the workload.

While it is necessary for larger corporations to have bigger teams as a result of a higher workload and more clients, there are many advantages to having a small team. When you feel like all that you’re missing for your early startup is more manpower, think of the advantages of having a small team working closely together.

A huge advantage of being part of a small team is the flexibility it offers. Employees in large corporations are usually focused on their own duties with little knowledge of what other people are doing. Smaller teams can result in better coordination between employees and more involvement in other departments.

Working for a startup will often require employees to step outside their comfort zone and take on responsibilities outside their job description to help the company. Regardless of job title, all employees work closely together sharing mutual support. Small teams, especially those of startups are very united and share common goals. Team leaders of small groups also have more opportunity to coach and motivate employees on a daily basis.

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