Team size: Why size matters

I keep wondering what the right size for teams is. It is common sense that a person alone is never as effective as a team. The reason is simple: When we are alone, we tend to loose sight of what really matters and we might not come up with the best ideas/solutions. Therefore, it is a good idea to have more opinions/minds to “do the right things”.

However, too many people tend to make the collaboration inefficient (“doing the things right”) as communication complexity multiplies. For knowledge workers I think there is some truth to the saying that:

  • Two workers can do three times as much work as one
  • Three workers can do four times as much work as one
  • Four workers can do four times as much work as one
What does that mean for team size? Doing simple math and maximizing outcome this would lead to teams of two. However, in my experience the right size for teams to get things done is three (yeah, I hear you saying that science says different – 5 to 7 or even 9 – but that’s my experience). Best if all three have a slightly different background. If you are a software team, then put together designers with engineers (and maybe a product guy). That should enhance effectiveness and consequently overall productivity even more.

If the chunks of work are too big to digest for a team of three, cut them down to make them fit. You can always do less in one iteration. However, I am a big fan of self-organization. Thus, let the team members choose the right size. If they want to cut a team of seven in teams of three and four, let them do it. If they want to work as a team of seven, let them try that.

In the end the right team size depends largely on the environment/culture. As far as the success and performance of teams goes, it is the attention to quality, capability and attitude that counts. Also communication and status transparency is crucial. But that’s a topic for a future post.