Division of Labour

Some six of us have planned for a vacation for next month. And so far, the “labour” of planning the vacation has been divided unevenly. So far, it has been three of us who have been doing a lot of the work – talking with tour operators, drawing up schedules, planning transport and accommodation, booking tickets, etc.

Now with a large part of the work having been done, the three of us who have been doing the work have decided to put NED and have left it to the other three “freeriders” to complete the rest of the work. As you might expect, the other three continue putting NED and in the last few days not much work has been done.

The question is this – what is the optimal strategy for the three of us who have been so far doing work? We think we’ve done more than enough of our share and so the others should take over now. On the other hand, the more we leave it to the other three, the more procrastination that will happen which might come back to hit all of us in terms of higher rates, etc.

It is dilemmas like this that allow freeriders to freeride – they know that by freeriding, they are not the only ones who are losing out, and that there are people who are more driven than them who will also end up losing out if these guys freeride. And the freeriders know that the driven guys won’t let things drift and will positively do something about it, and that encourages them to freeride further. And so forth.

Is there a solution to this problem? When there is a common objective, how should incentives be structured in order to make the freeriders work, while also not making it obvious that these are artificially tailored incentives?

15 thoughts on “Division of Labour”

  1. Hi, first of all let me commend you on the interesting post. I’ve been following you on and off.

    There is no optimal strategy, is there? There are situations when oneself is free-riding ( due to geniune reasons and not just laziness ).

    So, eventually it all balances out. And I’ve noticed that people who freeride, have usually some innate talent which makes it worth to take them along.

  2. One strategy would be to blog about it and shame them into doing their bit. But, in these situations I think the Pareto Principle holds true – most of the work is done by a few people in a group.

    1. i’m sure at least one of the freeriders read this post. And he did NOTHING, both before reading the post and after

  3. One way that I see is to assign some weightage to the efforts put. So because u three have done all the work, u would proportionately pay less than the freeriders. This can cause issues between “friends” but shud work in an official setting.

    May be here u can propose to the freeriders that either they do the work or they pay more for getting their work done by others

  4. As both an occasional freerider and occasional enthuboy, I think natural selection works against the freerider rule. Over time, freeriders will be derided and often not picked for groups etc (of course, if the freerider is your own significant other, you’re screwed)

    But there’s no short-term solution except to punch them.

  5. I believe in groups… the most effective strategy is to divide the work upfront before everyone starts. This kind of eases the matter and lessens chances for free riders 🙂

  6. Wimpy,

    In order to get them to do some work, you need to incentivize them appropriately. Since different people have different preferences, each person might need to be incentivized differently. For one person, reading your post may work, for another, you may have to crib & nag so that doing some work becomes the more pleasant option. Another thing that I think works in the long run is explicit acknowledgements and vocal appreciation of those who *did* do some work, in a setting where the entire group is present. This tends to encourage at least some responsible behavior the next time, but may only work over a longer horizon.

    Also, I agree with Aathira – the best approach in my experience is to take the initiative and divide up labor up front along with timelines, perhaps in an email penned to the entire group, so that everybody knows what each party is supposed to do and by when.


  7. Divide the work into chunks with dependencies. Give them the initial piece/s of work and bug them that you cannot start work on your piece unless they finish theirs.

    if they still dont do, drop them quietly and proceed on the trip on your own.

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