12th August 2018

Teamwork is the cornerstone of entrepreneurship education

A key objective of entrepreneurship education is to give students the first-hand experience of the processes involved in new venture creation and to encourage and develop in students the entrepreneurial skills required for such ventures. Typically, entrepreneurship modules request student teams to create a business plan for a product or service idea. However, in some cases, students have a negative experience of entrepreneurship modules primarily because of problems related to team-based delivery that manifest as role confusion, low trust, clashing personalities and ‘free riding’,  when one or more team members make little or no contribution to the project but nonetheless receive a group mark. Even more disappointing is that some lecturers ignore, or justify these negative outcomes by deferring to the reality of the workplace environment. This teaching note is based on the author’s research and experience of working with team based assessment with both small and large classes at Dublin City University.

What’s in a team?

Teamwork is an important tool in business, used to improve productivity and deal with complex problems. Studies have found it to encourage active learning, retention of information, critical reasoning, communication and social skills. With each member playing their role, teamwork will result in enhanced output.

Dysfunction in teams – the slacker and the work-horse

In a number of cases however, working in an ineffective or dysfunctional team may sometimes be inefficient, and can lead members to experience extreme frustration and resentment. Ineffective teams can experience problems ranging from scheduling difficulties and miscommunications, to larger challenges such as member absence, lack of leadership, personality clashes, lack of trust and confusion of team roles. In particular, the reduced or non-participation of certain members in a team is known as social loafing or free-riding. It is often demonstrated by a reduction in effort by a fellow team-member, where he or she fails to contribute a fair share to the group effort.

The origins of research into social loafing came from an unpublished work in 1913 depicting the ‘Ringlemann effect’, a phenomenon where the efficiency of the completion of a group task is less than the sum of each individual’s contribution. It was initially witnessed by Ringlemann when he observed that individuals put in less personal effort in a group rope-pulling contest, than an individual one. Why? It was suggested that an individual’s social pressure to complete a task is distributed when in a group, resulting in each individual feeling reduced pressure to contribute. Subsequent research has found that within teams, members are motivated by perceptions of the expected return of engagement (value of the outcome), and the effect their input will have on the team and performance (i.e. how instrumental they are). If members feel they are not instrumental to the team or performance success, or feel that the overall benefit of the teamwork is negligible, they may begin to disengage from the relationships and the project.

In line with this phenomenon, other related concepts were drawn from social loafing.

  • The Diligent Isolate - an individual who will work conscientiously, doing more than his or her fair share to compensate for less productive members. This individual, while attempting to salvage the project, may also be detrimental to the group by restricting the development of other members’ skills and knowledge.

  • The Retributive Loafer – an individual who reduces his/her work input when others are free-riding because he/she does not want to be taken advantage of.


How to prevent or reduce social loafing in teams?

According to research, it would seem that teams loaf less when (1) there is a method of evaluating the individual; (2) when teams have fewer members; (3) when members have specific and challenging tasks, (4) when members have ownership of an element of the team task; and (5) when team members respect each other.
Team Signatory Code Contract

In academic settings where social loafing is prevalent among student teams, the team signatory code has been found to be quite effective in dealing with early stage social loafing and to facilitate improved team performance. It is recommended that this document is discussed, drawn up and signed at the initial point of the teamwork venture to facilitate close and respectful relationships in teams. Within the experience of the author, the tool has been used with success in classes ranging from 30 to 500 students.

This is a form of governance document whereby teams create their own code of conduct for the teamwork initiative, that stipulates rules used to determine whether individual team members can or cannot receive credit for their contribution’. Once agreed, members must comply with the contract.

What to include in a Team Signatory Code Contract?

  1. A process for establishing leadership and roles

  2. A process for decision-making

  3. Agreement on how to document meetings

  4. Agreed norms of performance, attendance, output, timeliness and distribution of workload

  5. A process to ensure inputs from team members get fair and adequate consideration, and are fairly assessed by the group

  6. A clear process of reporting should a member need to miss a meeting or deadline

  7. Consequences in relation to late work, or work of poor quality, etc.

  8. A process for amending the current Signatory Code

  9. Signed agreement by all members

If these conditions are broken by a free-rider, they must face the consequences they have previously agreed to. In this way, the signatory code allows a team to define itself and its shared responsibilities, putting the onus on the team unit to develop their own norms and solve internal problems that may arise.

Roisin Lyons is an Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. She lectures in both Dublin City University (Ireland) and Princess Nora University (Saudi Arabia).