How Big a Team Can We Have in VR Team Building Before We Get Social Loafing
To explore this we need to look at “The Ringelmann Effect”, this was named after a French agricultural engineer, Maximilien Ringelmann, born in the 1860’s (Kravitz & Martin, 1986). This effect is also known as social loafing as Ringelmann noticed a negative correlation between group size and performance per individual, therefore as group size increased, individual performance decreased.
Later studies studied the Ringelmann Effect in further detail, which confirmed that this effect occurs in a variety of activities, which can be both physical and cognitive performance tasks (Ingham et al., 1974; Petty et al., 1977). However, identifying this effect was not satisfactory, and researchers strived to develop logical explanations for this occurrence. Kravitz and Martin (1974) suggested that individual performance is limited by the constraints of working within a group as group-work can make it difficult to synchronise maximal performance across team members in relation to tasks. However, Ingham et al., (1974) argued that this could not be the primary reason for a decrease in individual performance and highlighted that this can be due to a reduction in levels of individual motivation. With these results and explanations in mind, it has created a major dilemma for managers, team leaders and coaches. Due to this, it is imperative to identify specific circumstances that can result in this decrease in motivation, and how training within virtual reality can help to overcome these barriers to success.
It has been shown that group size is a significant contributor to social loafing (Karau & Williams, 1993; Latane et al., 1979), with an increase in group size causing a decrease in individual performance levels (Liden et al., 2004). Interestingly, those categories as high achievers were the most affected by this due to lowering their own efforts in order to match those of their peers in order to maintain equality (Simms & Nichols, 2014). Therefore, it is important when designing training courses and building teams to keep group size at a minimum in order to allow for individuals to achieve their maximum potential.
Following on from group size is the idea of identifiability as when group size increases, feelings of anonymity increase and individuals feel less valued and less accountable for their actions (Latane et al., 1979). In order to try combat this, Williams et al., (1981) discovered that social loafing is extinguished when individuals were under the impression that their individual output was being measured. Participants who worked in groups, while under this impression, performed as well as those working alone. On the other hand, when output was not identifiable, individual levels of performance decreased within both conditions of working in a team or alone. This means that those who were previously less motivated than their peers became more motivated as they were able to show their skills to their group and thus develop their potential (Chen et al., 2014; Reeve, 2014). Additionally, when groups are enticed with a valued reward for completing tasks and goals, social loafing diminishes as motivation increases in order to achieve that reward (Zaccaro, 1984).
Expanding upon this idea of anonymity within Identifiability is Invisibility, which can be a defence mechanism in order reduce feelings of embarrassment. Research has noted that decreasing levels of Invisibility is not always advantageous as groups who vary in levels of expertise experience an increase levels of impression management, which results in decreased effort due to fear of embarrassment Mulvey et al., 1998).
It is important to make people aware of their contributions within a group as this decrease’s levels of social loving due to the perception of all group members contributions being the same (Harkins & Petty, 1982). When individuals feel that their value is not fully appreciated by the other group members, their motivation, thus effort, decreases. This idea of individuality can be difficult to achieve within traditional training courses as attention to one individual may be viewed of as a lack of attention to another individual (Synnot, 2016).
A final contributor to social loafing is fatigue, which can occur even when the individual desires to give their full engagement (Orden et al., 1998). It must be noted that offline group training triumphs in interaction and engagement, but it cannot prevent individual fatigue which decreases individual performance. Similarly, meeting through computer screens, such as Zoom meetings, have been seen to increase levels of meeting fatigue which reduces levels of engagement and performance (Kavanagh et al., 2021).
How can Virtual Reality Reduce these Contributing Factors to Social Loafing?
In regard to Identifiability, virtual reality harbours the ability to remove individual anonymity in a more enjoyable manner. For example, performance can be measured at an individual level such as the use of digital scoreboards, which promotes goal setting for the group and healthy competition within the group (Brown et al., 1998).
Expanding upon reduced anonymity within virtual reality, virtual reality can not only decrease levels of anonymity but also adjust for layers of invisibility. It has been highlighted that virtual environments can improve self-disclosure (Barak & Gluk-Ofri, 2007; Hooi 7 Cho, 2013) as individuals do not suffer from social embarrassment which can occur in face-to-face interactions, such as facial expressions. Additionally, virtual reality can help to prevent the phenomenon known as the “Sucker effect” where individuals perceive that other team members are not giving their full effort and therefore fail to apply maximum effort themselves. This can be due to incorrect inferences about a person’s effort based on non-verbal cues, such as a yawn, therefore virtual reality can alleviate this issue as non-verbal cues can be removed, while allowing the trainer to choose where and when to add them. This allows high control over invisibility and visibility, which is a key advantage virtual reality has to offer compared to other forms of technology, such as Teams meetings. As a result of this, group members feel more comfortable in sharing their difficulties with the group as other group members will put more effort into helping the group members reaching their potential, which also increases their own performance levels (Karau & Williams, 1993).
However, it must be noted that invisibility can also be harmful as people may suffer from the Disinhibition Effect within the virtual world, which can cause them to behave with less kindness due to not physically seeing the human that they are interacting with (Suler, 2004). This idea of dehumanisation has been seen to be a contributing factor of social loafing within technology-heavy workplaces as employees feel less valued as a human being (Alnuaimi et al., 2010). However, advances within virtual reality technology have helped to protect against this due to the use of human, customisable avatars which have been found to increase socially accepted behaviours defined by the offline world in the online world (Bailenson & Yee, 2008).
Moving onto the idea of Individuality, virtual reality training can be specially designed to facilitate group work while giving each member the impression that they are the primary focus of the trainer. This is due to the first-person perspective of virtual reality, which gives the individual feelings of importance and individuality. This also allows for individual feedback while still being immersed in a group setting, meaning that users can remain active and engaged in their current setting, which is often an issue for offline training.
Finally, virtual reality can aid in decreasing levels of fatigue as it offers a blend of group and individual training and also allows for the feelings of full immersion, which Zoom meetings fail to provide. The ability for virtual reality to offer repeated exposure at minimal extra cost is a large advantage over other forms of training as virtual reality applications are not susceptible to human fallacies in repetition tasks, such as bias or subjectivity. These negative feelings towards the training sessions can increase fatigue, therefore virtual reality can combat this and decrease the rate at which fatigue occurs, thus meaning that performance is less hindered.
How do VRE Virtual Reality Experiences Utilize these Findings?
Even though it may be difficult to fully erase social loafing from any work or training group, virtual reality offers a unique experience which is equipped in order to effectively address the contributing factors that lead to social loafing. This means that virtual reality is an advantageous tool for group work, team building, and organisation training as overall individual performance does not decrease at the rate of traditional face-to-face training, and even training through platforms such as Zoom.
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