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Benefits of a small team

From Queen Victoria to Tom Cruise, there has been a consistent message: small is beautiful.

Even the monolith of Amazon recognises it, with founder Jeff  Bezos famously declaring that if a meeting couldn’t be fed with two pizzas, there were too many people there.

This week, Janet Choi, chief creative officer of iDoneThis, defined why. She noted that:

• A small startup of 7 people has 21 connection points to maintain
• A group of 12 has 66 connection points to maintain
• A group of 60 has 190 connection points to maintain
• A large enterprise of 6000 (Facebook’s headcount) has 17,997,000 connection points to maintain.

That’s a lot of time-consuming networking. Janet stated: “Each additional person increases total productivity of the team but at a decreasing rate, which means if you were the third member to join a team, you made a bigger impact on its productivity than if you were the thirtieth. Every steep jump in links also produces a steep jump in the potential for mismanagement, misinterpretation, and miscommunication. Delays emerge from the snowballing time and effort required to keep everyone informed, coordinated, and integrated.”

It is a phenomenon ATDI was founded to avoid. “From day one, we wanted to be small enough to be efficient and flexible,” says managing director Peter Paul. “That philosophy means we are the definition of a tight team – and I don’t care that sounds like a cliché; cliches only become cliches because they are so true, so often. When I look round the office, I don’t just know who all the people are; I know them. I know their strengths, their track record, their foibles and how they like their tea. And if I want to communicate with all of them at once, I can simply stand up and talk loudly.”

Janet Choi cites Professor Jennifer Mueller of the University of San Diego who defined why efficiency decreases in larger teams. The professor argues that: “Relational loss is when you feel as if you are receiving less and less support as teams get larger. This includes emotional support, assistance in performing work and overcoming setbacks, and informational support to help solve problems. Think about your worst workdays — and how much harder it is without a shoulder to lean on or someone to help you out of a jam.”

Peter adds: “Not a problem ATDI is ever going to have. When a team is this compact, it’s impossible not to notice when one of your colleagues is having a hard time. They don’t need to ask for help; it arrives the moment their progress starts to slow.

“It’s another cliché to talk about being a boss with an open door policy, and I’d have no reluctance about using it if I actually had a door. As it happens, I just sit in the same room as everybody else.”

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