Teamwork – Team Size Matters!

September 13, 2010 3Circle Partners

By Anton McBurnie

So your team is not working the way you would like….. Disorganized meetings, poor communication, half the team barely contributes and a few just dominate the airtime!

Unfortunately you are not alone, in our experience a mere 5% of people believe that they have been on a high-performing team in the last year. We find increasingly that team size is one of the main roadblocks to effective team performance.

The table below shows some of the typical impacts of team size on the key influencers of performance (for those of you who have been through one of our workshops, you will recognize the success factors as the categories of the Learning Cycle and on the the Team Accelerator Index):

While we are suggesting that a Fast Team of 4 to 6 members will be more likely to achieve rapid, sustainable results, this is not what we see in reality. Be it a functional team or a project team, our experience is that teams typically have 8 to 12 members; we believe this has a significant detrimental impact on team performance, irrespective of the quality of the individual members.

So practically speaking how can you get a smaller team?


1) First try it out: In your next meeting, where you have 10 or more people,

  • select a specific topic from the agenda
  • split the group into smaller sub-teams of 4-6 people
  • have each sub-team come up with recommendations/solutions on the topic
  • bring everyone back together as the larger group, and have each sub-team present their findings

To evaluate if this works for you, focus on the following criteria:

  • How effective was the interaction among team members?
  • Did you get the job done faster or more easily?
  • Did you get ideas that may not have surfaced in a larger group?
  • Did the quieter people speak up more?

2) If this smaller team approach works for you, look at ways to reduce the size of your functional or project team.

  • Delegate specific tasks to a smaller execution team.
  • Look at the purpose of meetings. Can you break it down into separate parts with smaller groups?
  • If you are in a large group, use the technique above of splitting into sub-teams for problem solving.

3) Sometimes you can’t reduce the size of your team. If reduction is not practically possible explore using the Core & Extended Team approach

  • The Core Team is your smaller team and includes the key individuals needed to make decisions. The members of the core team may change depending on the issue at hand. The Core Team will meet more frequently for shorter periods typically to make decisions or resolve issues.
  • The Extended Team comprises the people you call on when you need specialized resources, information or ideas. Members of this extended group can be invited to attend portions of the Core Team meeting when necessary. There may be Extended Team meetings less frequently as a way to communicate information and share ideas, but remember that this is NOT the forum to make decisions.

As we continue to explore this area of smaller team size we are very interested to hear your thoughts and experiences, best and worst.

  • Have you been a member of smaller team?
  • Were you able to create one and if so what did you do?
  • What do you believe the optimal size is for a team and why?

Contact Us.

contact-phone Call us toll-free in North America at 877.333.3606 or phone us at 416.483.7380.

contact-email Email us at info@3circlepartners.com.

About the Author

3Circle Partners

We believe creating an effective organization requires a scientifically based, data-driven approach. As industry leaders in team development and leadership consulting, we work with some of the world’s most successful organizations—including many Fortune 500 companies—to improve performance through a specialized focus on interaction. We call this Team Acceleration®.

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