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Iryna Viter

The Team Size Sweet Spot: Balancing Efficiency & Collaboration

Small, medium, or large? Here's how experts approach the ideal team size factor, and how it affects work results and efficiency.

If there is one thing the past year has taught us, it's that many have overestimated the ideal team size. The bigger the team, the more touch points there will be — and before you know it, processes will get tangled and efficiency will exit the picture.

But bigger teams are not inherently bad, they just don't fit in every setting.

So what is that perfect number and how can you make it work?

We're here to investigate.

What does the team size mean for performance?

team size infographic

There has been a plethora of research trying to establish the link between team size and efficiency. Recent research for the Nature Journal found that small teams are better at innovation and disruption, while bigger teams are the mechanisms you need to further develop an established idea.

In a larger team, there's always more arguing and debate, which means finding common ground can take longer. Having more resources doesn't automatically imply higher efficiency, after all.

In one study, people were asked to build a Lego figure. Two-person teams took about 36 minutes to finish the project, while four-person teams needed 52 minutes to get there — which means they required 44% more time to complete the project.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, has developed his own team size rule, known as the '2 Pizza Rule'. It suggest that your team shouldn't be bigger than what two pizzas can feed, no matter the size of your company.

According to Tuckman, there are 5 stages of team development in small groups:

  • Forming. Getting together as a group, establishing an organizational structure.
  • Storming. Experiencing first competition and conflict. This is where you need to develop team resilience.
  • Norming. Still waters period, characterized by unity and cooperation.
  • Performing. Getting well-organized and mature, focusing on reaching common goals.
  • Adjourning. Experiencing closure as a group and getting projects to the finish line.
team effectiveness and development stages

How to find the ideal team size

Smaller project teams help you complete more complex tasks faster, but the optimal team size will always vary based on the type of business, project maturity, and industry you are in.

The number of people making a single team always impacts team dynamics and output speed. As you have probably noticed, startups tend to operate faster than scale-ups, larger groups generally need more time to establish clear team goals and agree on shared team values.

This is because in bigger teams, you get layers upon layers of touch points and idea validation stages. Here's an easy way to look at it.

To build a successful team and decide on the right team size, follow these steps.

Evaluate employee experience

Studies suggest that employee satisfaction decreases as team headcount increases.

In a smaller team, each team member feels supported and recognized, they know everyone working on the same project, which makes team-building efforts easier. And teams with a strong sense of community and accountability tend to perform better.

Consider individual performance and impact

Everybody wants to see that they are making a tangible difference by participating in the project. In large teams, this feeling can fade away and together with it, performance.

In 1900s, Maximilien Ringelmann, a French engineer, decided to investigate team effectiveness models and found that productivity goes down as team size goes up.

In social sciences, this is referred to as social loafing, a phenomenon where people apply themselves less when they feel they are not the only ones responsible for delivering a certain piece of work. And the bigger the team, the less individual responsibility people feel, making less effort to contribute to projects at scale.

Don't over-communicate

There's such a thing as too much communication, especially when it is not effective. Rather than leading to constructive decisions, it causes delays. Employees end up feeling overwhelmed by the floods of communication, which negatively impacts their engagement and willingness to increase performance outputs.

However, when done right, over-communication can be a strength, not a weakness.

Work with your team availability

It's not uncommon to start a new round of hiring when launching a new project. Be it for bringing reinforcements, increasing available skill sets, or making project delivery more feasible, increasing your team size is one of those cases where you need to measure twice, cut once.

Before going up on team size, see if you are effectively using your team availability. Oftentimes, you will discover a lot of grey areas or resource optimization opportunities, which will make it easier to keep your teams small.

team formation based on availability

Using a tool that will give you a bird's eye view of all of your resources, their skills, seniority, and availability, will make it easy to spot better resource utilization opportunities. See who's free, booked, or overbooked to make informed decisions about the team structure you're building for a new or existing project.

Cut back on unproductive meetings

Unproductive meetings are a pandemic. And with many companies shifting to remote work, the number of recurrent meetings that bring little to no value has gone up as well. But the bigger problem with those meetings is that they create a feeling like you are short on resources and need to increase the team size, which is not always the case.

Instead, you need to look into how much time meetings take, how much value they bring, and how your team's capacity can change if you cut back on them. Oftentimes, your ideal team size will be much smaller than you assume before conducting a thorough investigation.

To sum up

Finding the right team size is critical for project success, but there are a lot of hidden dangers you need to be aware of before establishing it. The key is to give people just the right amount of workload, without overwhelming them with responsibility or making them feel that their impact is too little to matter.

Using a resource tool that gives complete resource visibility is a sure way to increase the accuracy and efficiency of your estimations.

Book a demo with Runn to see how advanced resource management software can help you make management a breeze!

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