It has been widely proven, that peoples motivation and performance is different whilst they are a member of a group, than they it would be whilst working alone. Many scholars have researched the reasons as to why in depth, and have had interesting conclusions, both relating to the effects on the individual and then to the group as a whole. I aim to discuss these reasons, whilst drawing on my own experiences, in the hope that I can identify some possible solutions.
The thing to consider in this scenario is groups versus individuals. Kerr & Park (2003) state, ‘…the effect of the presence of others on performance, one of psychology’s oldest questions, remains relevant for the study of group performance.’ When one is working on a project alone, they have no option but to put in one-hundred percent effort and remain motivated throughout in order to be successful.
However, when they are part of a group-effort, they are able to slack in performance and still have a fighting opportunity for success. I can refer personally to group-work in which I was involved in back in my secondary school days. I was part of a group called ‘Young Enterprise’ where I acted as an assistant to the marketing director, along with two other members. We were entrusted to handle the advertising of our product, and obviously had to work together but also had individual tasks.
I was not prepared for the role when I assigned to it, and often passed my work onto the other assistants. Propp (1999) believes it is necessary ‘…for members to share their individual knowledge with the group and for the group as a collective unit to evaluate and use effectively its member’s informational resources...’ in order to succeed. Working in a group can be seen as a way of encouraging motivation and in-turn helps the success of the task in question which is known as Social Facilitation; this represents a process in which people's performance varies depending on whether or not they are in the presence of others.
Zanjonc (1965) describes the effects of social facilitation by distinguishing how people perform dominant (i.e., tasks that are familiar, simple or well learned) and non-dominant (i.e., tasks that are unfamiliar, complex or novel) responses in the absence or presence of others. When a person's behaviour is a dominant response, the person's performance of the behaviour will be facilitated by the presence of others. That is, people perform better on dominant responses when others are around then when others are not present.
On non-dominant tasks, contrariwise, the presence of other individuals impairs performance creating a type of social inhibition or interference. When performing non-dominant tasks individuals perform worse when others are present than when the performer is alone. Personally I perform better when I work alone, because I like to work at my own pace and set my own deadlines.
This was proven to be true when Young Enterprise was over. When I was issued with tasks alone, I could take my time; research the topic and figure out exactly what I needed to do. But when we worked together I felt pressured, often agreeing to things I would later come to regret and wasn’t able to put in one-hundred percent effort as the task became too complex and I was unaware of how to tackle them.
This occurs, according to Zajonc, because the presence of others creates increased arousal. This arousal is effectively channelled into performance for dominant tasks but becomes distracting or inhibiting on non-dominant tasks.
However, group-work can lead to less productivity per person, meaning that the other members of the group have to pick up the slack or the over-all success of the project will diminish. This is especially true in large groups, as according to Ringelmann (1913) who formed the Ringelmann effect which establishes this connection, as it states that the inverse relationship between the number of people in the group and individual performance. When considering each individual member within the group, there are three main ways in which one can identify motivation loss.
These are social loafing, free-riding and inequity based losses. Social loafing is where an individual reduces their performance when they are part of a group, which is on a similar standing as the Ringelmann effect. This particular motivation loss can happen where there is a large group, if each individual has no real incentive to achieve the best from the task, if there is no evaluation period or if the members believe themselves to be anonymous, to name a few.
As I have previously said, when I was a member of Young Enterprise I was often guilty of social loafing. I knew that the other assistants were more interested in the project and took it very seriously; therefore I was certain that they would re-do my shabby work or often complete the task without my input at all. Free-riding is where a member benefits from the performance of the rest of the group, with-out putting in the same effort.
This goes against all social normalities; it is especially prevalent in disjunctive tasks and can have a serious affect on the relationships of the members of the group. Although both social loafing and free-riding sound alike, they have clear differences. Firstly in relation to de-motivating conditions, social loafing is about the lack of identification and evaluation within the group, whereas free-riding is about members not needing to put in individual effort. Secondly in relation to the type of task in question, social loafing occurs mainly in additive tasks and free-riding is a consequence of disjunctive tasks.
Thirdly in relation to consciousness, social loafing can occur without awareness but free-riding is a conscious, often calculated, choice. Finally in relation to social relationships, social loafing can be unnoticed by other members of the group but free-riding can clearly be noticed and often affects social relationships in a negative way.
The final form of individual motivation loss is inequity based losses which arises from perceptions that other members are free-riding and also that they have an un-fair distribution of work. This makes them less motivated to complete their share adequately and so they accept a lower reward as opposed to being an exploited.
This process was rightly named ‘the sucker effect’ by Kerr (1983). There are also ways to identify motivation loss from the group as a whole in accordance with Jarboe (1999). These include firstly over-conforming or agreeing to the opinions of others in order to avoid confrontation or because they believe it to be in the best interest of the group, but either way there would be a level of annoyance.
Secondly is an unwillingness to collaborate with other members which can arise from past experiences of group-work, which can leave negative emotions towards working with others. Thirdly is a difference in interaction styles among the members, conformists or adapters are reluctant to work with nonconformists or innovators because they have a very aggressive style of working and can often take the lead. Finally doubts about the roles that have been distributed, for instance they don’t believe that the ‘leader’ is capable of under-taking the role in a successful and fair manner.
Or perhaps they feel they have been given too much responsibility or too little. In my own experience, I felt inadequate to complete the tasks I was given as an assistant in Young Enterprise; I felt that I was involved in such an important element of the company’s success, and I just wasn’t prepared or knowledgeable enough to ensure this success. It is possible to eliminate the loss of motivation both individually and as a group. In order to show this I will discuss a hypothetical group that is being formed for the completion of a university task.
I will be making recommendations of what I would do at each particular stage, in order to minimise motivation loss. If the lecturer allowed the groups to form themselves, I would suggest forming a group with your hand-working friends that both attend and listen intently in lectures. This is to make sure that each member of the group will put in the same effort as the next, in the hopes of keeping the relationships intact when the project is over.
If the group was formed on behalf of the students, I would suggest that each member get to know the rest of the group and form a bond for the purpose of the project. Once the group has been formed and know each other, it is important to read over the task, making notes of the exact aims and objectives that are to be addressed in the project. These can then be adapted to form specific roles within the group, first by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each member and then by assigning a task to suit these strengths.
This means that each member is comfortable and capable of completing that specific part of the task, which automatically reduces motivation losses. It is important that each member feels that they are being heard and have a role within the group, which both suits them and is achievable.
In conclusion, there are many ways in which one can suffer from a loss of motivation, that will obviously affect their performance but there are measures that groups can take in order to keep this to a minimum or eliminate all together. I hope that I have proven this in my answer.
References Kerr & Park (2003). Group performance in collaborative and social dilemma tasks. In M.A. Hogg & R.S Tinsdale (Eds), Blackwell handbook of social physcology: Group processes (pp. 107-138) Malden, M.A: Blackwell Brown, R. (2000). Group Processes. Oxford: Blackwell. Chapters 1 & 2 Baron, R.S. & Kerr, N.L. (2003)
Group Processes, Group Decision, Group Action, Buckingham: OUP. Chapter 1 Engleberg, I.N. and Wynn, D. R. (2003). Working in Groups (3rd edition). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. Chapter 1 Hargie, O. (2011). Skilled Interpersonal Communication: Research, Theory and Practice (Fifth edition). London: Routledge. Chapter 14