Ad Florem Blog

Does size really matter?

In my previous blog (read more), I shared my personal experiences of positive teams …and ‘not so good’ teams; and also heard from many of you on your experiences and what you’d learnt about team working.

I promised I’d share the research I’ve recently done about the optimum size team …so here goes.

Ad Florem Blog

The short version

Katzenbach and Smith define a team as a ‘small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable’.

M Ringelmann discredited the theory that a group team effort results in increased effort, by analysing the pull force of people alone and in groups as they pulled on a rope. As Ringelmann added more and more people at the rope, he discovered that the total force generated by the group rose, but the average force exerted by each group member declined. Ringelmann attributed this to what was then called “social loafing” – a condition where a group or team tends to ‘hide’ the lack of individual effort.

Researchers (Hackman and Vidmar, Richard Hackman, QSM, Klein, Wheelan) have identified a general preference for a small team, containing less than seven members, showing:

  • That as a team gets bigger, the number of links that need to be managed among members goes up at an accelerating, almost exponential rate; and
  • Teams comprising between three and six members are significantly more productive and better developed than those made up of between seven and ten, and those with 11 or more members. When teams get over eight or nine people, it is cumbersome and the team breaks down into sub-teams

J Mueller explored the question of small versus large teams and noted in larger teams, people may not have the time and energy to form relationships that really help their ability to be productive; and also higher levels of stress were revealed for members of larger teams than for smaller teams. On a smaller team, people knew what resources were available and felt they could ask questions when things went wrong.

Espinosa, Lerch and Kraut state as projects and teams grow in size and complexity, tasks and member dependencies become more numerous, diverse and complex, thus increasing the need for team coordination. It often means less cohesiveness and less participation from group members, and often the opportunity for “social loafing”.

Wheelan reports that smaller groups are more likely to pass through all four stages of group development, and highly developed groups are more likely to be productive.

There is no one model or ideal as far as optimum team size goes, however it is clear team size is certainly a factor in team performance.

Overall, research does seem to indicate that ultimately, small is the better way to go when forming a team.

So over to you:

  • What’s your experience of working in teams?
  • What size teams have you worked in?
  • Can you connect with the research?
  • Are you aware of any other research about the optimum size of a team?

If you’d like a copy of the longer version with references, get in touch with me

I’d love to hear from you about your experiences …but most importantly, let me know your views on the research, so we can learn more about teams.

Thanks for exploring with Ad Florem

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