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Small Teams: The Secret to Success?

April 15, 2015

According to fast-growth companies, team size directly influences productivity rates and engagement levels. Yet, it’s how those teams are developed and managed that determines their success. Smaller teams—whether cross-functional or focused on one function—can inspire creative thinking and efficient decisions, especially if they’re carefully structured.

Here are some tips for managing team size and productivity that can help boost the quality and relevancy of a small team’s outcomes:

Itemize roles and responsibilities upfront. Yet, also be sure to update this list as the project develops and as unexpected needs for different skills, knowledge, and perspectives arise. If new members need to be added, consider soliciting input on the skills needed to supplement the existing team. Teams can grow sloppily and unnecessarily in size if individuals are simply added as a courtesy or on a need-to-know basis. And new team members who participate primarily by listening are less likely to stimulate the conversation around a problem or opportunity.

Keep meeting agendas very specific. This way, team members can more easily stay focused in smaller, quicker and more direct meetings that generate forward momentum and fuel ongoing creativity.

Take advantage of the intimacy that small groups afford. By getting to know and understanding team members, their individual goals and functional nuances, the creativity and impact of the team is enhanced.

Make meeting and work flow constant but not overwhelming. Carefully pace how each part of a project is delivered in order to keep all team members engaged without burnout.

Enhance Productivity Through Team Involvement in Process
In this age of rapid market shifts, tight timelines and never-ending deadlines, perhaps nothing is more vital to success than keeping your project on track. How to do that? Here are some helpful thought-starters:

> Have the team leads set ongoing checkpoints for evaluating progress and re-evaluating structure.

> Ensure that the overarching goals of the project are interwoven into your tactical process’s tracking mechanisms so that no one loses sight of them.

> Keep all project management software updated in real time and accessible to a range of stakeholders.

> Hold scheduled review sessions or reality checks to ensure that projects are moving according to goals and schedule—protecting against a decentralized, even disorganized, flow where independent ideas prevail over accountable group decisions.

> If roles or responsibilities start to become unclear when a project shifts in a new direction, meet as a team to re-establish them in light of the updated vision.

> Enable team members to prepare and to offer input and feedback, whether that’s from practical or theoretical points of view.

> Embrace and endorse attitudes of humility, willingness to learn, and collaboration.

> Personally check in with team members as projects unfold to see how they feel about their role and the potential project outcomes. Ask if they feel that the team chemistry is positive and if not, how they might want to change it.

> Incentivize team members with rewards that speak to their individual character and personal interests.

> Make roles and responsibilities clear when a team project shifts in a completely new direction.

When tasked to build the same Lego figure, two-person teams took 36 minutes while four-person teams took 52 minutes to finish—over 44% longer. Yet the larger teams were almost twice as optimistic about how long they’d take.*

*Business Insider, “The Science Behind Why Jeff Bezos’ 2-Pizza Rule Works.” 2014