When Jeff Bezos started Amazon, he enforced a rule that teams had to be small.

“If it can’t be fed with two large pizzas, the team is too big.”

Harvard psychologists agree – “Big teams usually wind up just wasting everybody’s time.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, organisations, governments and small business are looking back to see what they can learn.

I’d like to add another question to the evaluation menu. Did the size of your team stop you from pivoting effectively during the virus? Would the Two Pizza Rule have served you better?

 

Supersized Is Not Good For Any Team

We’ve all seen it: teams and meetings which are too big and become cumbersome and slow.

It’s not your imagination.

They sap efficiency and decrease work quality. They also make team members overconfident.

Researchers in Philadelphia set teams to make the same Lego figure. The bigger teams were twice as overoptimistic about their speed as the smaller teams. But they took 44% longer! There’s a lot of room for error (and time… and money…) in that gap between overoptimism and reality.

Another risk is groupthink. It appears in large groups when team members feel they should pander to the dominant opinion.

Research published in Nature showed that groups with fewer than 10 staff are more effective in driving innovative solutions.

I know which option I want for my small business.

 

Small Teams, Big Efficiency Benefits

The two-pizza rule saves time, drives motivation and maintains relationships.

It makes your team more efficient, more focused and more connected.

1. Time: With fewer people to keep in the loop, you minimise the effort needed to perform tasks. Smaller networks share information with greater accuracy and show greater effectiveness.

2. Motivation: Have you noticed that there is less engagement and motivation in a big group vs a small one? In a big group, people wait for someone to put up their hand. Next thing, the common goal starts to feel like somebody else’s problem.

3. Relationships: The bigger the team, the less support a manager can offer. Staff pay the price of isolation and stress. The organisation pays in the form of less engagement leading to reduced output.

As a manager, your business is to manage the people in your team. Those under you are managing the clients and the output. Your role is to be a step ahead of the team and get the best out of the whole operation.

If you manage a small team, you can keep your finger on the pulse.

I encourage the managers I coach to build a daily, 10 minute routine into their practice. Feet on the desk, coffee in hand, observing and reflecting on how the team is going.

With a small team, you can achieve and maintain an overview in 10 minutes. What’s more, you can respond to the areas that need your attention before they become a pandemic.

 

Work Smarter, Not Harder

A small team also leaves a manager free to do the deep, careful work that allows organisations to thrive. You can:

√   Do the strategic thinking, alone or with your team, to keep your business ahead of the curve
√   Be proactive by predicting problems and then having challenging conversations
√   Bring out the best in your workers; help them reach their goals and meet the organisation’s expectations

 

How Big Is Too Big?

Take a look at your org chart and make sure it’s not too flat, with one manager and dozens of direct reports.

If you can’t re-arrange your org chart tomorrow, start by dividing large teams into smaller groups or go with a sub-committee model.

A good sized team has between 4 and 9 members.

If a manager needs to provide greater attention and up-skilling, then go for 4. If the team is more experienced and independent, 9 will work.

The perfect size depends on the manager and the project, but between 5 and 7 team members is best.

You can implement all the changes in the world to build a more resilient company after coronavirus. But without the right sized team, you’re running a three legged race.

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