Work in a big team?

People working in large teams tend to overestimate their input more than those in small groups, a study shows.

Psychologists asked students to claim the proportion of work for which they were responsible in a group task. They found individuals’ contributions to a group of eight or more added up to more than 140%, whereas those in a group of four or fewer came to less than 110%.

The work will be published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.

“People were surprised about the extent that over-claiming occurs,” says study lead author Juliana Schroeder from the University of California Berkeley. “They think their reporting is accurate.”

But large-group overestimation is not because we’re raging narcissists – the researchers say that as there are more team members, it is harder to get a handle on how much work an individual really did.

Schroeder, with Eugene Caruso and Nicholas Epley from the University of Chicago, divvied up 699 Master of Business Administration students into groups. After completing a task, they were asked six questions to gauge the proportion of the work they claimed.

The study offered no reward for inflating their contribution, but groups generally added up to more than 100%, with the biggest groups blowing out to more than 140%.

Can big teams reduce this apparent over-inflated sense of responsibility?

“When you have large groups, you might want to consider breaking down the group into smaller teams,” says Schroeder.

“It is also important to make the workflow very clear. If assignments are clearly divided, it’s easier for people to remember who is doing what.”

In another experiment, the psychologists asked people to think about a time when they’d worked in a large or small group, and judge how much they’d contributed.

This time, though, the participants were instructed to think about their colleagues’ contributions first – and there was no difference between small and large groups.

The researchers write: “Members of larger groups may be particularly well-advised to remember that many hands make overlooked work – and to consider others’ contributions alongside their own.”

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