Size Really Matters
Genghis Khan knew something all leaders should know. To be highly effective, the size of a team matters.
In Khan’s military system, a fighting force was built from units of 10 (aravt), 100 (zuut), 1,000 (mingghan) and 10,000 (tumen), each with a leader reporting to the next highest level. The building blocks of 10 allowed Khan to create highly cohesive and skilled teams where flexibility and innovation thrived when tested in battle.
The superior performance of smaller teams is not lost on contemporary leaders nearly 1000 years later. Good leaders intuitively know that big teams are rarely close-knit, nor do they possess the flexibility necessary to adapt to changing conditions.
By breaking down larger collections of people into smaller and more manageable teams, leaders can improve just about every aspect necessary for high performance, including speed of communication, clarity of expectations, and the in-time feedback critical for improvement.
Experienced leaders also know that the larger the group, the lower the individual accountability. The personal sense of responsibility each team member feels is needed to propel the team forward is diminished as a team grows in size.
Larger teams also tend to encourage social loafing whereby team members do less as they hide and slide. It is not surprising, then, to learn that the average team size in the most effective organizations is between 4-10 team members. Google, for example, prefers teams of 4-7 to foster innovation and creativity. The leaders at Amazon believe a team should never be larger than what two pizzas can feed, or about 10 people.
While team size should certainly reflect the task at hand and the roles needed to achieve the best results, creating a smaller team of highly engaged and active members should be the default.
By thinking of an organization as a team of teams, with leaders of each smaller unit also operating as a 4-10 person team reporting upward, great enterprises look big on the outside, but feel small on the inside. Organizations and teams that feel and act small promote higher coordination and trust. So when it comes to teams, size really matters.
We are trying to implement the Team of Teams Model in smaller organization where most teams will have 3 to 5 people.