How many times have we heard the phrase “less is more”? Cliché or not, there’s merit to this expression when it comes to doing business. Smaller teams tend to move quicker, ideate at a higher frequency, and innovate more for the company. For this reason, many of the largest technology companies created their first successful products with teams of fewer than 10 people and continue to work in small teams within larger organizations to this day.
Keeping teams small is critical to unlocking innovation as a company scales over time. Here are four benefits to keeping your circle small for your brand or organization.
1. Smaller teams streamline communication
It should come as no surprise that smaller teams are able to communicate more effectively and more often in less time—just by the smaller headcount itself. In small team collaboration, not only do you have fewer people (or “links”) to keep track of, but you’re more aware of each person’s responsibilities and how your own work fits in.
In the early days of Amazon, Jeff Bezos famously instituted a “two-pizza rule.” His edict was that any team that could not be fed by two pizzas was too big. In concept, it is fairly easy to understand how a smaller team can be more effective, as communication is easier, and decision-making can be accomplished more promptly.
When you first form a team, spend time to determine what types of decisions each member of the team can make on their own, as a group, and what decisions need to be escalated for more senior input. Then fight hard to push as much of the decision-making to the team by defining concise guidelines that give them ownership and accountability.
2. Small teams stay focused
There’s a reason why the rowing analogy is so often used to describe team dynamics. Simply put, your team needs to be rowing in the same direction, or your organization will lose steam. Adding in too many people—who all have their own list of priorities—can quickly derail your team’s focus and eventually make management of it unsustainable. Keeping your organization small can create a more singular focus and increase productivity.
Another way to get smaller without shrinking your entire organization is to break business capabilities into focused organizational units, each with a distinct set of services that are well-defined and understood (yet still accountable to the company as a whole). If you put someone in charge and give them responsibility and authority to get things done—you can see what they can accomplish.
3. Small teams are more accountable
If you have ever worked as part of a group toward a larger goal, then you have undoubtedly experienced firsthand the Ringelmann Effect, or social loafing. This psychological phenomenon suggests that as a group’s size increases, individual team members feel less responsible for the output and in turn, contribute less.
Smaller, agile teams are more likely to carry their weight, make decisions more easily, and execute tasks in a shorter amount of time due to increased accountability. In smaller teams or groups, every individual’s input serves a purpose and makes a difference, which more evenly diffuses the ownership of responsibility.
4. Small teams foster trust
In smaller teams, there are deeper one-to-one relationships between team members, which makes it much more likely that they’ll be respectful of one another’s unique expertise—and trust it. Trust must be earned through a process that takes time to develop, but when each person feels empowered to bring their own varied skill set to the table, problem-solving becomes more agile and innovation grows.
When teams get bigger, the aspects of collaboration and equality start to diminish. So, before you add more team members to the docket, consider what impact it will make on your company in the long run. In other words, we’d keep the larger groups in mind for office parties but keep your working teams nimble.
A small, hungry team with the right insights has bigger ideas, are more innovative, and will perform their best. After all, our motto is “Small Agency, Big Ideas.”