May 03, 2009

Optimum number of team members

Writing about web page

Meredith Belbin stated that an effective team must have at least one of the following:

1. Plant

2. Resource Investigator

3. Co-ordinator

4. Shaper

5. Monitor-Evaluator

6. Team-worker

7. Implementer

8. Completer-finisher

9. Specialist

Linking this with what Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book - 'The Tipping Point' - it raises an interesting question what is the optimu number for people in an effective team and what a leader must do when the team exceeds that number. Malcolm Gladwell wrote an individual can only have continuous, regular and meaningful contact with maximum of 12 people. An individual rarely can exceed that  number because everyone is limited by time and energy.

In our in-class discussions we assumed that the team we are talking about are about the same size as the one we had for all the modules that we attended i.e. between 4 and 7 team members. In teams of this size, it is easy for a leader to keep contact with everyone and address each team-member's problem(s) as they arise.

However, what happens if we as leader(s) must manage a team of 50, 100 or even 347 people. How do we keep at least the majority of them motivated and working hard towards the set goals. I beleive that in order to achieve this a leader must develop sub-leaders or lietenants who can supervise the sub-sets of teams. The leader will lead his lietenants who then will lead their team-members. 

This is the structure that most organisations adopt. Although it does enable the leader to manage a large sized team, it does create an additional problem of how to ensure that the message does not get diluted or skewed as it travels down from the leader to the lowest team-member.

I beleive that there are 2 things that leaders must to do to mitigate this:

1. Have a clear, short vision that easily be converted into strategy and specific operational goals.

2. Ensure that there is a clear communication channels that allow open feedback.

To summarise, an effective team must not be above 12 people and if there are more than 12 people in a team they should be broken down into sub-teams according to specific goals and/or tasks.

- 4 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Interesting derivation, Shez! I think you’ve made a valid point about sub-teams and that when leading a large amount of people the vision plays an important role! From my experience even 12 people working on the same task without spliting it up can be difficult. I am not sure whether this number is valid for leaders as well. I believe leaders do not need to be in touch as intensively as, say a manager. Do you think each sub-leader would be leading a team of sub-leaders as well? Because if not, your theory would limit the maximum number of followers down to 12*12=244 followers at a maximum… However, in order to reach a large amount of people, followers (who can be sub-leaders at the same time!) have to help the leader promting the vision. (Hope I get my point across here… :s )

    I would like to add a third aspect to your list though – trust and loylaty! In to make sure that the message doesn’t get dilluted, the leader and sub-leaders have to trust each other which results in loyalty in return.

    04 May 2009, 23:40

  2. sorry – 12*12=144…

    05 May 2009, 00:38

  3. Amrita

    Hi !

    Interesting article. I really enjoyed reading the complete article.

    A team leader manages the composition of the team in such a way that it has an optimal number of team members to execute the functions effectively. It is the duty of the team leader to effectively balance the mixture of knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristic to bringout the desired outcome and to produce an optimal blend.

    With Regards

    16 Jul 2009, 13:35

  4. Aishani


    The role of a team leader in guiding a team is immense. This post is indeed helpful and the guidelines for maintaining a proper team will sure prove beneficial for both the aspiring team leaders.



    16 Sep 2009, 14:06

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