Group activity is great at work but up to a certain point when troubleshooting and creating new paths. Whoever said the more the merrier on projects to get it done quicker was sadly mistaken.
Let’s take into account Jeff Bezos’ rule regarding meetings. If a team can’t be fed off of two pizzas, your team is too big!
Adding more people to solve a problem has been shown to actually hinder team productivity overall. Businesses are now encouraged to form groups of five to eight members to maximize employee potential. It may be a small number, but it leads to better engagement, productivity and ultimately, accountability.
This number works well with meetings and collaborations. Let’s take a look at why.
Size matters here
With fewer people working together, less bureaucracy gets in the way. Fewer moving parts makes for greater efficiency.
Gallop released a report (c2013) called “The State of The American Workplace” where they had found that up to 42% of employees engaged in teams in smaller companies versus only 30% of employees in large companies. Additionally, there is something called the Ringelmann effect which states that the larger the team the less individual members will be productive.
Another term used when discussing group size is “social loafing”. This term is used to describe the amount of engagement and input that an individual will make compared to the size of the team. The lower the team the greater the input from each individual and vice versa for larger teams.
Gallop had discovered that the smaller team inputs had greater value and produced, productive and profitable solutions quicker than larger teams.
Unsurprisingly, it goes without saying (but we will say it anyway) that the smaller the group the greater the communication to each member. For example, how effective would you be at keeping in constant touch with your whole graduating class than just your close friends? With small team collaboration, you have only a small group to keep track of and you become more aware of each person’s responsibilities and understand better how your role will impact the project or problem to solve.
A concept called Link Management, was introduced by Harvard Psychology professor J. Richard Hackman. He explains, “as a team gets bigger, the number of links that need to be managed among members goes up at an accelerating, almost exponential rate. It’s managing the links between members that gets teams into trouble. My rule of thumb is no double digits.”
The bottom line of this concept is that the larger a team grows, the more difficult it is for members to communicate with each other formally or informally. Checks and balances regarding each other’s work begins to trail off. It becomes more muddled and chaotic. In Hackman’s own words, “Big teams usually wind up just wasting everybody’s time.”
We know that small teams increase communication. This also prevents group think. Small team members can call each other out or constructively and critically evaluate ideas much better.
Independence and innovation will suffer when teams grow too large. We tend to remain quiet so as not to “rock the boat” of dissension among the ranks. Oh, the irony as this is the most important time to speak up but due to the large group size, we have a tendency to second guess our thoughts and remain silent (for the most part).
The smaller the group, the more individual attention can be passed around. This also includes buffering stressful periods that the team may face on occasion.
By contrast, leaders (team leads or team managers) cannot evaluate, coach or mentor large teams as the need to give attention to each individual is next to impossible.
Smaller team dynamics give way to greater autonomy, flexibility and accountability in both team scheduling and ideas that extend trust to each individual. There is a natural lower ‘fear of failure’ with small teams. Larger teams may actually breed a sense of overconfidence and under performance.
The most powerful influence on engagement remains with the manager. Keep your managers limited to teams of five to eight. Nine can be acceptable on occasion.
One-on-one meetings weekly or bi-weekly are best to build and maintain the trusted relationship and offers time for coaching or mentoring if needed.
On occasion it may be beneficial to hold a ‘community of practice’ meeting with the team to share and develop skills that would be helpful to the team. This can be a direct reflection of employee interest in specific subjects as well.
If you cannot answer a problem or have a solution ready, provide your team or individual with a route to obtain the answers they need. You cannot be the sole source for knowledge but more a facilitator of getting the most out of your team by guiding them when needed.
Ensure the right people are invited to the right meeting. No sense in wasting someone’s (or your teams) time on a futile engagement.
Invest in collaborative technologies. Time and productivity saved will be worth it.
Create visible objectives for the team. It may sound corny but having your own team vision or mission statement hanging on the wall functions as a gentle reminder of your goals.
Track your teams’ output and not hours. It is more important to see results than to ensure everyone is logging in a hundred hours a week.
Challenge established team practices. Continuous improvement comes about from asking questions and bringing forth ideas that become the base for change.
Smaller teams are greatly beneficial to any organization. The increased productivity, accountability, autonomy are just a few advantages to creating a less stressful team experience.
It really does come down to what works best for your organization. It may be time to make changes and try some of the above tips and information.