Size Does Matter

When it comes to teams, bigger is not better. The reality is that the larger the team, the more complicated the communication becomes.

Project managers use a formula to calculate potential communication channels, which shows that as the number of people increase, the communication links exponentially increase. Using this formula, you can see that a team of 10 has 45 potential communication channels.

In addition to the complexity of multiple communication channels, in a larger team there are more relationships to manage, more people whose opinions and ideas need to be heard, and more people to involve in decisions.

The Wisdom of Teams defines a team this way: A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

Notice that the definition refers to a “small number of people.” The ideal size of a team has been debated, and while the research is inconclusive, a range of 5- 12 is a good rule of thumb (depending on the task). While there is no formula to follow to calculate the appropriate size for your team, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Form should follow function. Design the team to do the purpose you define, not to avoid making people feel left out. 
  • Maximize efficiency. No one likes having chunks of their time wasted in meetings. If there is someone whose expertise or opinions are only relevant for certain elements of your project, it’s ok to invite them to meetings as needed instead of making them part of the team.
  • There is a difference between a project team and a leadership team but span of control is still a consideration. The bigger your team gets, the more your leadership style will need to change.

Facebook’s Vice President of Design Julie Zhou wrote a great article outlining the differences between managing small and large teams. Growth is often part of success, and she shares what she learned about evolving as a leader as her team expanded.

Consider the goals for your team and the complementary skills needed to accomplish those goals, and choose your numbers accordingly. Remember, size does matter and bigger isn’t always better!

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