Big teams are a big headache

Amazon’s much-feted two pizza teams came into my mind again yesterday, when I read this article from Bob Sutton on ‘Why Big Teams Suck’.

Harvard researcher J. Richard Hackman concluded that four to six members is the team best size for most tasks, that no work team should have more than 10 members… These troubles arise because larger teams place often overwhelming “cognitive load” on individual members. Most of us are able to mesh your efforts with and maintain good personal relationships with, say, three or four teammates. But as a group expands further, each member devotes more time to coordination chores (and less time to actually doing the work), more hand-offs between the growing cast of members are required (creating opportunities for miscommunication and mistakes), and because each member must divide his or her attention among a longer list of colleagues, the team’s social glue weakens (and destructive conflict soars).

Further to this, it also seems to me that smaller teams lead to more accountability and autonomy for each team member. People want to do good work, and if that work can be directly attributed to their efforts then they will put more of themselves into it.

How big are your teams or project groups? Do you think they would benefit from downsizing, or do you believe more hands make light work?

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