Small Teams in Pink Shirts Do Best

(Clockwise from top left: Anil Nain, Alex Baranpuria, Greg Olsten, Thomas “Gramercy” Carey, Saul Shum, Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill)

Science has finally confirmed that small teams wearing pink are the most productive teams.

Ok, the part about wearing pink is not true. But small teams are in fact proven to be more effective. Here at Ivy Exec, we agree.

While it may seem counterintuitive, having more people working on a project does not always equate to a project being completed faster. There are ideal team sizes for any project – the minimum required to get the job completed on schedule.

By pulling additional people into projects, you actually wind up increasing the amount of coordination required.  In an article in Entrepreneur, Janice Choi shares a formula that expresses how adding people to a project exponentially increases the amount of coordination required by management. When seven people are involved, they require 21 connection points between one another. A team of 12 must coordinate with 66 connections.

Growing the team involved on a project also serves to decrease individual motivation. By being part of a far-too-large group, individuals become complacent, as the work load is shared by many. Choi cites a study by Max Ringelmann on ‘Social Loafing,’ in which participants shared the task of pulling on a rope.  When the experiment starts with one participant, the proportion of maximum effort exerted is more than 50% higher than when seven other participants join in.

So how do you perform optimally?

  • Start small. Identify the amount of work that is needed to complete a project, in terms of hours needed to complete individual parts, as well as the required personnel for the task. Don’t retain an entire team of software engineers when you only need one.
  • Monitor progress.  Identify the road blocks that are slowing the project down. If those road blocks are internal, your first thought shouldn’t be “We need to get more people to help us out!” Trust the team working on the project.  By adding more people to a project that has already commenced, you are indirectly telling those who started that they are ineffective – a great way to lower their morale, and encourage social loafing.
  • Adjust as you go. Sure – there will be times when the only solution is more manpower. If you need to do so, make sure you communicate individual responsibilities, accountabilities, and timelines.  When you start adding more people to the equation, the last thing you need is confusion over roles.

About the Author

Greg Olsten is Ivy Exec's Sr. Content Manager, producing Online Classes, and Executive Intelligence articles.