• Lorraine Buckley

Startups & Social Loafing

Updated: Jul 20, 2021

The "Two Pizza Rule"

Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos' created his "two pizza rule" – which means that if two pizzas cannot feed a team, the team is too big. [I'm happy I'm the only marketing exec - I'll have the two pizza's please!]

In a startup environment, we may think that hiring more employees will solve multiple problems and eliminate some of the obstacles encountered.

If we have a larger team, we will be able to achieve our goals quicker, right?

Well, not necessarily. Take a step back and think twice before posting that new job advertisement.

Several online sources have pointed out how more employees could slow down overall productivity levels. Small teams could result in better collaboration between employees, especially in small companies where everyone works together.

In addition to his "two pizza rule", Jeff Bezos wrote a letter to his stakeholders in 2013. He emphasised 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 hiring too many at once. You may realise that one new hire might be more beneficial than the three new hires you believed you needed. When the group size grows, it is more of a challenge to notice each team member's efforts and advancement; when each employee's work goes unrecognised, social loafing may occur. As a result, employees may lose their intrinsic motivation and feel comforted that other team members will substitute for the gaps they leave. In larger companies with big teams, it is challenging to spot high-performing people quickly.

Unfortunately, employees who feel like their input doesn't matter too much may apply this mindset: 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 with 30 people, we can choose to sit in silence and ponder what to cook for dinner that evening. On the other hand, in a meeting room with 4-8 people, it becomes apparent when someone becomes lost in thought, and there is more pressure on each person to contribute and take part.

High-performing individuals, however, will continue to strive for excellent results and adopt a "you gotta be in to win" mentality. They will continue to enter competitions regardless of the number of contestants and share their ideas in a meeting room even when there's no pressure to participate.

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 to rely on. The effort becomes reduced when pulling the rope as a team.

Reasons Why Social Loafing May Occur

Motivation [Or Lack of It]

Employees who are not motivated by specific 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 input into a task or project doesn't impact the overall result, they may be less motivated to try their best.

Lack of Trust in Other Colleagues

What if members of the team are suspected to be procrastinating and avoiding work? In that case, others may follow to prevent taking on more responsibility and escape from covering for people who put in little effort. Those who work hard and those who don't may receive the same appraisal later for the team effort.

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 willing to take on their share of the workload.

Benefits of Small Teams in Startups

While larger corporations must have bigger teams due to a higher workload and more clients, there are many advantages to having a small group. When you feel like all you're missing for your early startup is more manpower, think of the benefits of having a small team working closely together.

A considerable advantage of being part of a small team is the flexibility it offers. Employees in large corporations usually focus on their 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 opportunities to coach and motivate employees daily.

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