What is the theory of social facilitation?
Social facilitation is the theory that people perform certain tasks more efficiently and effectively when around other people. The theory is categorized into two types of social facilitation:
- The co-action effect: This type of social facilitation is driven by competition. Essentially, working alongside others makes people feel competitive, causing them to perform faster and better than their peers. This concept can be seen even when no real competition exists.
- The audience effect: The audience effect is a form of social facilitation that takes place when someone is working on their own with someone overlooking their work. For some employees, having a supervisor overseeing their work inspires them to work harder, while others become uncomfortable, insecure or anxious.
Social facilitation vs. social inhibition
While social facilitation refers to the tendency to perform more impressively when in the presence of others, social inhibition is the tendency to perform tasks more slowly or poorly when surrounded by other people.
There are several factors that influence a person’s response, most of which have to do with their familiarity with the task. If it’s a relatively easy task or one they’re comfortable doing, social facilitation is usually the response. On the other hand, social inhibition is much more common when someone is performing tasks that are more complex or foreign to them.
How to apply social facilitation in the workplace
To successfully implement social facilitation in a working environment, follow these steps:
1. Evaluate the type of task and the person performing it
If your team is performing a task that is complex or unfamiliar, their needs may be much different than if they’re asked to do something that’s simpler or they’re more familiar with. Because of this, you need to approach social facilitation on a task-by-task basis, assessing the situation and then adjusting your environment and involvement depending on the needs of your employees.
2. Provide an appropriate environment
Once you’ve evaluated the unique situation and employees, you need to customize the environment to foster their performance. For complex tasks, you can eliminate unnecessary and unwelcome pressure by:
- Getting rid of or minimizing time constraints
- Reducing environmental distractions
- Providing privacy and physical space
As a result, you give your team the opportunity and freedom to learn something new and develop their skill set. If your team is working on something that’s fairly easy, you can introduce social facilitation by centralizing their location and combining team members that are working on the same task.
3. Decide whether an audience would be beneficial or harmful
It’s important to limit the access of others when there’s a risk of social inhibition due to a task’s difficulty, but the opposite is true for simple assignments. You can encourage social facilitation by:
- Being present throughout the task
- Inviting other supervisors to watch your team
- Encouraging observation from other departments and teams
Examples of social facilitation in the workplace
Here are some social facilitation examples in a work setting:
- Sales associates working in an open office environment have an audience to witness their sales and compete against. As a result, their sales numbers are more impressive than when they work in a private office.
- A team of creatives working together to come up with an advertising campaign and tagline. Because they’re surrounded by others, their ideas are more creative and complex than if they had worked on the project separately.
- A task tracker set up in the office ranks employees based on the quality and quantity of their work each week. Because both their own and their coworkers’ performances are on display for others to see, they work harder to increase their numbers.