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Seven (Plus or Minus Two) Is the Magical Number Once Again

Big Teams Aren’t Always Great

If you’re trying to dig a canal, it might make sense to have as many people as possible working to make the initial hole in the earth. However, when it comes to teams doing more cerebral work, having as many people as possible is one of the least constructive things you can do. Bob Sutton explains why on his blog, as well as how the magic number seven (plus or minus two) is still the best bet for getting work off the ground.

First, Sutton explains why big teams often lead to more trouble:

These troubles arise because larger teams place often overwhelming “cognitive load” on individual members. Most of us are able to mesh your efforts with and maintain good personal relationships with, say, three or four teammates. But as a group expands further, each member devotes more time to coordination chores (and less time to actually doing the work), more hand-offs between the growing cast of members are required (creating opportunities for miscommunication and mistakes), and because each member must divide his or her attention among a longer list of colleagues, the team’s social glue weakens (and destructive conflict soars). 

People do Better in Small Groups

He also breaks it down further into general human interaction: the majority of restaurant reservations are made for 4 people. Why? Because it’s hard to have meaningful interaction with many more people than that at a time. In order to have good connection and interaction, people need to feel engaged, and that’s simply not practical outside of the magic number of seven (plus or minus two).

So if you find that a project you’re on has more than 10 people working on it, perhaps it’s time to take a step back and ask how it’s impacting the work. Are you spending more time trying to get everyone on the same page? Are people’s egos getting too big or, just as likely, are people not engaging with the project at all?

Read more about optimum team size and a more examples of what happens when they get too large by clicking here:

About Matthew Kabik

Matthew Kabik is the former Editor of Computer Aid's Accelerating IT Success. He worked at Computer Aid, Inc. from 2008 to 2014 in the Harrisburg offices, where he was a copywriter, swordsman, social media consultant, and trainer before moving into editorial.

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