Puzzle Part - Pixabay

“What am I missing?” Janet, a concerned division leader, posed this question to me after reading a post I wrote about what leaders can do to get their employees to be accountable.

She continued, “It makes sense for me to check situational constraints, ensure capability fit and assess the willingness of my direct reports. Could you say more about situations when someone has the needed capabilities to do the work and competing demands are not an issue, but still does not perform as expected?”

As I picked her brain to get context, she explained she understood the importance of employee engagement and had taken action to enhance it. This had improved employee performance over time, but there were a couple members of her team that still were not delivering on expectations.

What I discovered upon further exploration was Janet had not missed something. She was headed down the right path. She just had not stayed on it long enough yet to get a read on what was happening with the two team members in question. As it turns out, she was dealing with the Ringelmann effect and a form of the victim mindset.

Countering the Ringelmann Effect

With the Ringelmann effect, individual effort decreases as team size increases. More specifically, team members exert less effort when there are others involved who provide needed effort. Those exerting less effort don’t feel as responsible for the output. Research over the years has shown this is due more to poor motivation than failing to effectively coordinate the efforts of all parties. Another term for this effect is social loafing.

So, what can be done about it? Here are tactics to counter the Ringelmann effect that helped Janet:

  • Establish a standard for team performance that includes how individual team members contribute then set goals that can be used as a base for comparison regarding output
  • Assign the task to a smaller number of team members (a subset of the team) to increase each team member’s level of accountability and identifiability
  • Provide candid, constructive feedback on a consistent basis to make the link between effort and expected outcome clear (and coach team members how to do this for each other)

Overcoming the Victim Mindset                    

While the Ringelmann effect was at work with one of Janet’s team members. The other team member was dealing with something else. His confidence was shaken because of a negative outcome he had experienced. Since he was dwelling on the negative outcome, this was hindering his performance as a member of the team. In other words, he had succumbed to the “doubtful victim” mindset.

Janet was able to overcome this form of the mindset with steps to increase his self-confidence. Incidentally, be sure to keep an eye out for the other form known as the “arrogant victim” mindset.

For more information on handling these two forms, take a look at the following posts:

As you encounter your own employee performance puzzles, allow enough time to identify factors that contribute to them. The Ringelmann effect and the victim mindset could be the culprits. With the right tactics, these culprits can be eliminated or at least minimized.


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: Puzzle Part, Pixabay)