• Jeff Doolittle

The Power of Others Presence on Performance

The empty stadiums of the 2020 Olympics provide modern leaders with valuable insights into the impact of empty offices on productivity and profitability. Have you experienced the effects of virtual offices on performance where you work? The psychological concept of social facilitation reveals how organizational talent performance is impacted by the presence of others and tips for how individuals and leaders can respond to improve performance. When you put the ideas of social facilitation to work, you give yourself and your followers opportunities to achieve both higher levels of performance and career success.

If you are like me, you have appreciated the positive distraction of the 2020 Olympic games. As a full-time doctoral student, I have little time for television. Still, I have enjoyed streaming the personal stories of the athletes. In addition to lessons about personal sacrifice, commitment, and the importance of family and friends, the games have provided insight into the influence of others on our performance. Whether you are a team leader with remote employees or find yourself working from home, you can benefit from understanding the psychological concept of social facilitation. Applying lessons learned from the empty stands of the Olympic games can improve productivity and profitability in the new reality of empty offices in a hybrid workplace.

The Joyless Workplace?

Some have labeled the Tokyo Olympics as the "joyless games" due to the lack of family and friends in the seats to cheer and celebrate. Even though the absence of a crowd is apparent, if you only look at the faces of Olympic gold winners, it is hard to recognize the difference between these games from any others. Cardboard cutouts in the stadium piped in crowd noise and extra encouragement from coaches and teammates are being used to fill a void. According to the athletes themselves, the reality is that fans have an emotional effect on the games and can increase the energy for those winning or inspire those behind to dig deeper. In the following interview with two former Olympic athletes, they provide perspective on the impact of empty stands on the athletes' performance.

The empty stadiums of the "joyless games" create valuable insights for leaders on how a "joyless workplace" can impact employee performance.

What is Social Facilitation?

Social facilitation is a phycological concept relating to the tendency for the influence of others to improve a person’s performance on a task. This concept was first described in a study of bicyclist's racing performance in 1898. The researcher noticed that when racing against others, athletes performed better than those racing only against their times. Social facilitation is defined as improvement in performance induced by the real, implied, or imagined presence of others. Social facilitation is thought to impact our drive to perform, our ability to focus while performing, and have an effective influence on our anxiety and desire to impress others. Social facilitation has two types of effects:

  • Co-action effects: referring to performance improvement because others are doing the same task as you.

  • Audience effects: referring to performance improvement because you are doing something in front of others.

Recent research has identified three nuances that impact social facilitation:

  1. The presence of others only negatively influences employee performance on tasks considered complex and challenging.

  2. The presence of others positively influences employee performance when confidence is high for the task. The presence of others negatively affects employee performance when the performer has lower levels of confidence.

  3. Proximity, number of others, and the degree to which others are supportive play a role in influencing performance positively or negatively.

One of my first not-so-fun memories associated with the social facilitation audience effect came from an experience I had when I was eight years old. My parent's desire to develop a music appreciation led them to make me take one year of piano lessons. I remember I was assigned to play "Doo-Dad Boogie" for my first piano recital. While this sheet music is elementary, it was challenging for a first-year piano student. I was terrified at the recital even though I was only playing for a few parents and other students in the living room of my piano tea