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In our previous Newsbites Blog, we discussed the importance of distinguishing between whether you are a Single Work Group leader or indeed, a true Performance Team leader.

We defined a team as:
“A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they are mutually accountable.”- Katzenbach & Smith (1993).

So what is the optimum size of this ‘small number of people’ i.e. the team?

Professor George Miller who conducted seminal research on ‘Remembering’ in 1956: “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information”, was surely on to something…

Miller proposed that a human can recall or ‘hold’ five to nine bits of information, that rule would also seem to hold true for effective work teams. Individuals can maintain effective relationships of between five and nine people but not much more. But can it be that simple?

Jennifer. S. Mueller of Wharton Business School acknowledges that size is not necessarily the first consideration when putting together an effective team.

“Firstly, it’s important to ask what type of task the team will engage in,” Mueller says. Answering that question will define whom you want to hire, what type of skills you are looking for. A sub-category to this is the degree of coordination required. If it’s a sales team, the only real coordination comes at the end. It’s all individual, and people are not interdependent. The interdependence matters, because it is one of the mechanisms that you use to determine if people are getting along.”

“Secondly,” she says, “what is the team composition? What are the skills of the people needed to be translated into action? That would include everything from work style to personal style to knowledge base and making sure that they are appropriate to the task.

And thirdly, you want to consider size.”

And here is the rub….there does seem to be a magic number and at Oakridge our rule of thumb is 8+ or – 2 . After 10 (perhaps 12 at a push) the number of relationships and communication required seems to force teams to begin to break down and operate in sub-teams.

“If you have a group of janitors cleaning a stadium, there is no limit to that team; 30 will clean faster than five. But,” says Mueller, “if companies are dealing with coordination tasks and motivational issues, and you ask; “what is your team size and what is optimal?” That correlates to a team of six. Above and beyond five, and you begin to see diminishing motivation,” says Mueller. “After the fifth person, you look for cliques. And the number of people who speak at any one time? That’s harder to manage in a group of five or more.”

When you are a single leader work group and have no ‘true interdependency’, the only constraint is the number of individual relationships you as the leader can handle.

If you look at most organisations even numbers seem to carry the day. The Infantry squad for example, will be eight, splitting down into two fire teams and then a pairs-buddy process.

Clear team boundaries are also important. A team can call in experts for specific items. Meredith Belbin, who conducted research and ground breaking work on team roles, labels these folks “Specialists”. But, the team needs to be able to all agree who is ‘on the team’ and what their roles or contributions are.

To get true Team Effectiveness there are always ‘first among equals’. It’s much more effective to decide on a core team for decision making/strategy and problem solving, and an ‘extended team’ where other members are part of sub teams. It respects their time as well as the team’s task. Ask the team which team they think they are in – you might be surprised at the variation in the answers.

Jerry Scott - Senior Consultant We asked Jerry Scott, one of Oakridge’s Senior Consultants and Team Effectiveness coaches, for his top tips and reflections with the following questions:

What is your Top Tip?

“You don’t need to form one team with everyone who reports to you. Whilst there are certainly advantages to bring this group of people together to share information, there can be significant disadvantages (time, motivation, impact) of trying to manage a diverse range of agendas together just because they sit in the same part of an organisation chart. Ask yourself this key question:

Who needs to work together to drive particular strategic goals?

That will be a real team that is worth investing in. You may then find you have more than one team who are sized appropriately and focussed on the right things.”

What would you suggest for those of our readers who are leading effective work groups and not teams?

“If you are a single group leader then you will really want to consider something called ‘span of control’. There are some simple rules you can use to determine the best number of people vs the complexity and the degree of interdependence of the tasks they do.  If you would like to know more you can contact the team for more information.

What helps you the most when working with team leaders and their teams?

Using the 14 Team Conditions Indicator with a team leader and a team, can help them to focus in on the areas that really need paying attention to. To steal a phrase from another Team Effectiveness Guru, Marshall Goldsmith, it really helps to do “teambuilding without time wasting”

So If you are interested in talking to Jerry or any of our other Team effectiveness coaches about how to make the next step with your team, please Joanne Sharp who will kindly arrange for a call or a meeting to be put in place with one of our specialist team members.



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