This is a guest post by a member of the Aciety network – AnvilEight. They are a truly progressive and agile software development house, having clients around the globe and their own views based on the actual experience. Here is what the CEO Andrey Zarubin says.

Stay objective

Have you ever wondered if the team size influences its efficiency? What’s better – a small striking squad or a massive heavy conglomerate? How many people is it needed to spend the company’s allotment efficiently and rationally, without being threatened of criminal responsibility for misappropriation of funds without any results? So, what is the perfect team size?

There is a lot of people who admit being either in big or small teams, and they won’t stop arguing, demonstrating advantages of their companies. Unfortunately they can totally forget about the fact that it’s not that simple in the world. Even living in 5-star hotel on the Greece coast for free, people can miss their favorite tiny and smelly pub round the corner or that nagging old neighbor.

That’s why put aside all your personal preferences and after that objectively estimate the efficiency of the different size structures and compare their advantages and disadvantages.


Agility vs resourcefulness

Most of the managers think that huge groups have more resources for work being done. It seems logical that 20 workers show best labor productivity than only five of them. More people, project is partitioned into more definite parts and it is easier to make it done even with the couple of force majeures. Project is getting done step by step and all teammates make their small but stable contributions. In the end this bundle of information turns into one whole unit that pleases its creator and makes his wallet nicely heavy.

But all stumbling blocks appear here.

Superfluous size of the work team is one of the most common and one of the worse obstruction for efficient collective work.


Bigger teams might lead to unnecessary bureaucracy

Heavy official circumlocution is the first obvious reason. Of course, nobody will send workers one by one to gather all the necessary papers and agreements all over the company buildings and only on the full solar eclipse days or only between 3 am and 3:02 am. But who knows. The problem means that sometimes decisions on different working questions cannot be ready in hours or even during a couple of days. And all because the strict hierarchical structure in the huge corporations where that decision goes through all the managers and department heads. Average worker hardly will take all responsibility by himself (especially if everything goes wrong in result), and on the other hand the team leader has to keep his authority on the appropriate level while controlling all the team moves.

On this background the small team of 5 members looks like more rational because it is possible to gather all in an extremely short time, discuss the tiniest moments of the working plan, value everybody’s pros and cons and back to the work again. Of course, this cannot protect from the same wrong decision but all teammates can say the word and the responsibility will be also team-wide.

Members in the small teams have more or less equal rights and duties. The leadership will probably demand more responsible and detailed work together with the rest of workers, but not only commanding and flirting with the colleagues during the whole day.


Members of smaller teams are more engaged and motivated

The second important factor is so called “social idleness”. This phenomena appears in situations when the person gets lost in the big team and makes horribly small contributions to the collective work. It can be even unconsciously done.

This fact had been officially discovered for almost 90 years ago and called “Ringelmann effect”. Professor Ringelmann noticed some weird correspondence of the number of workers to their work results.

His experiments concerned the next observation. He took average persons and asked them to carry some loads and fixed the results. After that he gathered people in groups of two, and then of four members and eight of them.

He tried to prove that if one person can carry 100 kilos then the team of two persons should be able to raise this number up to 200 kilos or ever higher. That was the subjective idea that the team work helps to get the best results, that it’s result is far over the sum of the every member ability. This thought has been born in the prewar France and it is still alive.

But the results showed the right opposite numbers! Two people carried 93% of the sum of their individual rates. And eight of them could deal only with 49% of the planned weight.

The reason of this monstrous contrast is simple and old as the humanity itself. When a man counts only on himself, he puts all his efforts. He needs to prove himself, to be marked, to recommend himself as the professional and to claim the higher position and salary. But in the big team it is easy to save his pains because sooner or later the work will be done and somebody scarcely will check the contributions made by every member of the team.

That’s how the time is flowing but the human psychology remains the same. People see no reason to bend over backwards on the work if the final result will be collective and every strong and weak team member will be turned into the faceless pawn. There are numerous occasions when the irresponsible workers stayed on the projects with all the work being done by the young and vigorous newbies, who tried to recommend themselves in the company.

On the other hand in the small team it is easier to see either the team member do all his duties or only pretending of being workaholic.

That’s why it is important not to raise the number of workers trying to catch the working plan but to improve the maximal efficiency of every person. Especially it concerns that cases when the working plan is build in that way when the working results of the person A are tied to the schedule and methods of the worker B.


Small teams are easier to optimize

Quite good optimization of the working process is also an advantage of the small and well-knit teams. Optimization is one of the key condition for staying on the top of the labor market. The workers are quite interchangeable, they can deal with many different tasks and understand the basics not only of their specialization but also of some close spheres.

The managers should make a big team if the work concerns some standard and routine tasks with no doubt. If it is necessary to raise the productivity and quantity of the final results – the big team is a perfect choice, But beware of the countless coffee breaks, any kind of time wasting and low moral atmosphere in the team, which are the eternal shadow of the monotonous work.

This is the reason of the third factor that appears in huge and small team and influences them any way. We speak about the team spirit.


Small teams develop relationships and team spirit faster

Of course, it is much more easier to even to drink a river being a crowd, but sooner or later this will lead to some kind of chaos, intrigues and running from the responsibility. Everything that was written above – bureaucracy, half-done work with the fake workaholic glory, unfair or not interesting task distribution – all this is a real curse for big teams. There will always be people who thanking to their experience, age or human insolence take the most interesting or the easiest parts of the projects, morally oppressing the rest of the team.

This problem is easier solved in small teams. Everybody know each other, all the strong and weak sides and sometimes the average worker stands shoulder to shoulder with has team leader. Here it is easy to see more fair or rational task distribution, non-stop discussions the questions, team work solving the problems, high level of self-esteem and as a result – positive influence on the final results.

But again a hidden jeopardy! If someone argues within the team (and all of us are humans and we can hate someone’s perfume or not agree in how many chapters should be in the supporting documentation) it can be the unsolvable problem. Small team moves forward to becoming a family analog and people can become acknowledged of some personal moments of their colleagues life. And if there appears ill-feeling between the partners it will be much more difficult to distant them, to make them contact as rarely as possible.

Thus, the big team keeps quite distant relations within itself. In case of the over-emotional people it seems to be the positive fact. But for those who has the lack of communication, less confident and not experienced people the big team turns into the extra stress, atmosphere with no internal support and motivation.


Quality over Quantity

So what is better – the big team or the small one? Whose working potential is higher with the smallest rate of stress and pressure? Can we compensate the quality with the quantity?

The answer is simple – the size means nothing, John Snow! More important are the personal development, skills and motivation of all the workers, their ability to compromise, their responsibility and eagerness of learning something new.

Companies managers should think hard about their commanding abilities, their skills in controlling and motivating the colleagues.

If the work can be done by the five persons there is no need to enlarge the team trying to catch the huge scope in the company reports and make the unnecessary corporation structure. Do the work properly and believe results but not rumors.