Have you ever noticed how large crowds are impacted by small groups? Think about it: In any given basketball game, there are ten basketball players on the court—yet thousands of fans will gather in the stands and potentially millions will watch on TV. Consider military special forces, where a team of eleven can infiltrate behind enemy lines in ways that thousands of soldiers never could. The lesson here is important: You should never underestimate the impact of a team by its size.
The impact of small teams is astounding—especially in the world of agile, where small agile team sizes of five to nine have proven to be a force of reckoning. So, what exactly makes these small teams so impactful? And, why aren’t small teams heralded as the heroes they are?
What Makes Smaller-Sized Agile Teams So Impactful?
Small teams have the ability to move faster, make decisions quicker and, in essence, be more agile than their larger counterparts. Does this mean small teams are always better? It depends.
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Remember the Tuckman Model of Team Dynamics? You know—forming, storming, norming, and performing—all teams, large and small, have struggles and must develop to a level of efficiency that produces desired outcomes. But here’s why smaller-sized agile teams often have an advantage:
1. Smaller Agile Teams Fail Fast & Mature Faster
One significant difference with small teams is that they can develop as a team much faster. Smaller agile teams have the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn in way that is simply unmatched by larger teams.
“Smaller agile teams have the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn in way that is simply unmatched by larger teams.”
The smaller number of lines of communication [N(N-1)/2] lessens the confusion, which all contribute to a more effective, faster-maturing agile team. Sure, team development must run its course—but the faster a team can fail, figure out their mistakes, learn from them, and move forward, the greater chance they have of having positive impactful outcomes. In other words, while you cannot skip over the process of team development, you can certainly speed it up
2. Smaller Agile Teams Provide Greater Transparency
Greater transparency increases trust among team members, which creates an ideal atmosphere to derive real solutions that matter—not those that only “look” like they matter.
With transparency comes accountability, and accountability is the great equalizer for small teams. Without transparency and accountability measures, even small teams may not yield the desired outcomes.
“Accountability is the great equalizer for small teams”
Large teams, just like large corporations, have suffered from a lack of transparency on engagements and have resulted in the worst kind of surprises—you know, the kind of PR disasters that are first discovered on CNBC and Bloomberg.
On the other hand, small teams often have more transparency to address problems quicker and implement the solution faster, as is the case for Scrum teams. There is much less red tape and bureaucracy to navigate because all the key decision-makers are in “the same room.” Well, maybe not literally in the same room, but accessible to move things forward and come to a resolve that can be acted upon quickly.
3. Smaller Agile Teams Maintain that “Familial” Feel
Small teams tend to feel more like they’re producing meaningful work, making a difference, and being instrumental. Think about how instrumental families tend to be in our lives: A constant reminder that we are meaningful and make a difference. Now try to remember a time when a friend of yours expressed that they just feel like “employee number whatever” and nothing more than a spoke in a wheel; sure, they know that their contribution is necessary, but they just aren’t ever made to feel important.
“Small teams tend to feel more like they’re producing meaningful work, making a difference, and being instrumental”
In small teams, you can see your impact, you can hear your impact and while you may only receive an occasional “good job,” you can see the appreciation of your work and how it really makes a difference. Smaller teams have that “familial” feeling that is significantly more difficult to have in larger teams.
This list only scratches that surface of what makes small teams more effective, but if you want to have greater impact, move faster, become nimbler, and increase transparency, a small team—in conjunction with some expert agile coaching—is likely your way to go.
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