Tips and Tricks

June 19, 2017 By Raph DaCosta

Smarter Teams Think Small

June 19, 2017

By Raph DaCosta

Read More from Raph DaCosta

June 19, 2017

Smarter Teams Think Small

By Raph DaCosta
Social Media Specialist

There’s a conference call. Bob, the team leader, is miffed because the team hasn’t met it’s weekly goals. Laura still seems confused as to what those goals were, which may be because Bob didn’t lay them out all that clearly. Meanwhile Carol is passive-aggressive towards Steve, who took two days off and left Carol with a larger portion of the workload this week. While all this plays out, well, not a whole lot of work is getting done.

Did we just give you a bit of déjà-vu? Is so, trust us, you’re not alone. That’s because teamwork, while effective in many regards, can devolve into a three-ringed circus if not implemented correctly. For instance, in our made-up conference call, maybe Bob wasn’t the right fit for team leader. Maybe Carol works better as a soloist than a team player. And, maybe, the team was too big to succeed.

All of these factors—from personalities to expertise to size—affect how efficiently teams complete tasks. So let’s delve into how to properly set up a team—whether it’s an in-house team or a team made up of members from different companies.

Size Matters

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, is a smart guy. And he came up with a somewhat smart “rule” for teamwork. Dubbed the “two pizza” rule, it basically states that if a team can’t be fed by two pizzas, it’s too big. It’s simple yet effective, and denotes that smaller teams are more effective. But, we say somewhat smart because, well, it still leaves a lot to the imagination. For one, how many people can two pizzas sufficiently feed, exactly?

For a more solid head count, let’s turn to the researchers. A hundred years or so ago, French engineer Maximilien Ringelmann found what is known as the Ringelmann Effect. In his study he found that people’s efforts—and therefor effectiveness—quickly diminish as team size increases. The drop-off started at around five people. Since, further research has found that the most effective team size is around four to five people.

A survey of 1,000 knowledge workers conducted by found that about a third of them work in teams of seven or more people—meaning they’re staffing teams ineffectively.

Take Personality Into Account

If you’re only taking into account workers’ functional roles (i.e. head of sales, accountant, etc), then you’re staffing your teams wrong. That’s because, according to Hogan Assessments, a leading personality assessment and leadership development firm, you must always account for individual personalities.

In the firm’s eBook, The Secret to Successful Teams: Conflict, they break down what they refer to as psychological roles (a fancy term for personality) into five sub-categories: results-oriented, relationship-focused, process and rule followers, innovative and disruptive thinkers, and pragmatic.

In order to have a well-functioning team, you need to have a balance between these five types of workers. For instance, if too many team members are relationship-focused, the team will focus too much on getting along. You need to throw in a pragmatic voice to question the ideas that need questioning.

In a Harvard Business Review article, the CEO of Hogan cites an team they worked with, which broke down as follows:

  • 0% of team members were considered results-oriented
  • 0% of team members were considered pragmatic
  • 29% of team members were considered innovative
  • 29% of team members were considered process-oriented
  • 86% of team members were considered good relationship builders

“In this example, the team spent too much time ensuring harmony and cohesion and too little achieving results,” writes Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, the CEO. “When you focus too much on getting along (with your teammates), you probably will not have much time or energy left for getting ahead (of other teams or organizations).

“But, my team works across different companies and vendors, you say. Well, this still applies. The team leader from each organization knows their co-workers. If each of them follow this rule, effectiveness will follow.

Diversity is Key

Diversity can often be a mere ideal for many companies. When it comes to putting together effective teams, though, diversity can seriously improve performance. But we’re not just talking inherent diversity (i.e. race, gender, nationality)—we’re also talking things like educational background and experience.

For instance, a study of management teams found that those with a wider range of educational and work backgrounds produced more-innovative products. Another study of scientific researchers (a rather meta study, if you ask us) found that the more multicultural the team, the more often their paper was cited—the key metric to a paper’s success.

Suffice to say, when putting together a team, make sure to include workers who represent an array of backgrounds.

If you keep these ideas (and these myths) in mind, your work teams will most definitely make the dream work.