Have you ever noticed that adding people to "help" with a workload doesn't seem to get it done faster? The more people working a task, the less they work. And this is something that scientists have known since the 1800s.
Many hands may make light work, but they don't make the work lighter in the proper proportion. Scientists have noticed and even come up with a term for it. "Social laziness" sets in during many group projects, when adding more people to a large, or time sensitive undertaking doesn't pick up the pace as much as it should.
When it comes to group dynamics, there are plenty of reasons for this. Large groups bring their own logistical problems of resources and communication. Then there's the flat-out drama. All it takes is one fight, or one person, to slow a group down dramatically. (This might be worth a series of experiments all on its own. How big can a group get before, statistically speaking, it acquires one asshole who ruins it for everyone else?)
But those problems are complex and constructed, and the Ringelmann Effect is basic and - it seems - intrinsic. Max Ringelmann, a professor of agricultural engineering, first attempted to quantify why multiplying the number of people taking on a task never seemed to make the task five times more achievable. He came up with a simple experiment. He got people to pull on a rope attached to a force meter. First they pulled singly, and then together. Three people provided 2 and a half times the power of one person pulling. Eight people got about four times the power. The more people pulled, the less each individual tried. So, whenever you see a movie about the power of teamwork, laugh loudly and obnoxiously. The more people in the movie theater, the less industriously each single person will beat you for it.
Image: Harvard University Archives