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The power of small teams

Posted on:November 2, 2023 at 01:00 PM

‘Rework’ by 37signals is a pivotal book that greatly shifted my mindset upon my initial reading. Nonetheless, as with numerous other books, it’s impossible to realise every concept until you’ve gained the related experience.

I was at the helm of several projects that saw substantial growth in terms of team size: from 2-3 to 30-50 members. This supplied me with interesting experience and pushed me to numerous challenges that strengthened my growth as a manager and CEO. However, upon reflection, I’ve realised this isn’t the manner in which I prefer to operate.

It goes without saying that certain businesses, such as Starbucks, necessitate the involvement of a large number of employees — at least, with our current level of technology. However, this is not always the case for IT products.

There’s a simple rule stating that the overall effectiveness of a team can be measured by its weakest member. Thus, the addition of a new staff member requires careful consideration as it can sometimes detract from, rather than enhance, productivity.

In recent years, my emphasis has shifted towards working with smaller teams. Surprisingly, I’ve found that a small, experienced team of 3-4 individuals working for 1-2 months can often achieve more than a group of 10 over a six-month period.

This occurs for several reasons:

  1. You don’t need to spend extra time on communication which consumes significant time and more importantly, resources.
  2. Reduced delegation equates to fewer iterations and hence enhanced overall performance. If a developer understands the product’s vision, she can reshape tasks to strike the optimum balance between quality and speed. If a mobile developer can adjust the API, extra personnel needn’t be involved for minor fixes.
  3. Smaller teams experience fewer group dynamics issues. Although larger teams inherently demand greater psychological management due to differing personalities, smaller, focused teams acquire the same understanding less frequently. Additionally, direct communication amongst team members strengthens trust, positively influencing the overall team dynamic.
  4. Increased intrinsic motivation comes as a byproduct of the personal responsibility that each member of a small team assumes for decision-making and results. This cultivates a sense of autonomy and competence, which are vital for intrinsic motivation and consequently, overall wellbeing. A motivated team of professionals could potentially outperform by a factor of ten to a hundred.
  5. Everyone matters; this crucial notion is comprehended when it’s understood that you’re directly impacting the outcome. In larger teams, your input might seem negligible. However, in smaller setups, it’s clear that you’re instrumental in shaping the product. This improves self-esteem and consequently promotes wellbeing.
  6. Stay hungry; with a limited workforce, careful selection of tasks is key. While it’s easy to make decisions with the luxury of a large team, when every decision is critical, the stakes rise, invariably benefiting the startup or business.

In conclusion, I advocate for small teams wherever possible. I’m of the opinion that many teams are abnormally large, which decreases their performance. Of course, building a small team is a challenge, better described as an art than a skill. However, the payoff is undeniably worth the effort.