Is there an ideal team size? Yup!

I’ve been asking myself this question since the beginning of my MBA program because we keep being assigned to work in teams of different sizes with different people with no discernible results other than earning a grade. It felt a bit like working in Corporate America, where managers may have teams of tens or hundreds to perform tasks and complete projects without really knowing that most work packages can be handled by smaller teams more effectively. Having too many people involved in the decision making will hinder progress especially if the players in the room have no idea how to tackle the challenge. What’s the perfect team size then? 3? 5? 12? I checked a few articles and the experts, like the ones at Wharton, believe that five to twelve people per team should be the answer, depending on the task! 🤔🤔🤔 (Click here for more background info.)

The problem that the article stumbles across is one that has affected every team I have here worked for or led: When you have too many people on a task, there will be some social loafing or slacking because there is not enough material to go around. To add insult to injury, teams should be built for the task at hand and not chosen out of convenience or leisure. Why? Teams that have too many members or pals tend breed a sense of ease for those who can contribute less because they can hide behind the overachievers. This drives the overachievers nuts because they feel they are carrying dead weight when the task was truly underestimated. When teams are not built with the skills necessary to get stuff done the risk of failure is oftentimes mitigated by the strongest link or links’ performance. In the case of too few people, too much work, the team will feel stressed and overwhelmed.

When the goal of the game is to win, not to learn, the resulting strategy will look more like a phyrric victory, but a victory non the less. The end result will not quantify the cohesiveness, resilience, grit or any other characteristics the quest for achievement should instill in the participants. Passing a class or completing the tasks at work will be worthless if you are cheating participants of their learning experience especially when all they are doing is avoiding failure. This is why leaders need to reconsider how they build teams, in academia and the real world, because they may not need duplicate skill sets to deliver results. Adding value comes from people who compliment each other and are open to reaching consensus based on trust, knowledge and common understanding of the deliverables and expectations.

Some groups will have independent workers that can get complex tasks done with inputs from their teammates; some groups will have to rally together and expand into areas outside their comfort zone or expertise to achieve success. Leaders must set clear rubrics and requirements that convey how work should and must be split to maximize the learning experience and objectives. The lesson we must all learn is that workgroups need to accept failure as a positive, as growth opportunity. Maybe then we will have more teams that are willing to work together to learn and not to just get the 4.0 or the bonus check at the end of the year. Failure in of itself should be rewarded and not penalized, within reason for resilience and knowledge to complement achievement. One cannot be obtained without the other.

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