Size and teams

Size matters. Not only in architecture.

How many people on a team is just right? Shall we go for a big team or small is the new big in projects? are questions popping up at the design phase.

The biggest team I managed had 20 people and the smallest – 3. The Palm Jumeirah Island mega project had teams commensurate with the scale of the project.

On the face of it, larger teams get more done. Yet, there is evidence that individuals in big groups actually perform worse. It is the “social loafing” syndrome: “someone else will do it. why bother?”. It is known as “Ringelmann effect“. Although it may not manifest in a construction project, I would think, when your client is a Sheikh .

So how many is just right? Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has the “two pizzas rule”: if a team can’t be fed by two pizzas, it’s too large. According to Katherine Klein from Wharton University, the widely accepted ideal size for a working team is five people “If you go beyond five people the team starts to lose individual performance, while teams smaller than 5 people can experience awkward team dynamics and skills gaps”.

Smaller groups appear more agile, robust and pro-active. Yet, research shows, disagreements happen more in smaller teams than bigger teams. It could be the frequency of interaction. Or just the fragility of egos.

Through trial and error, I noticed three rules of the thumb valid on my mind in approaching the decision on the number of team members:

1. If the project needs legal advice and financial services/accounting and a candidate is competent in both, take him/her on both roles, for a blend of skills. It will save time and effort, which will be otherwise spent on collaboration or its failure.

2. The size of the team may not be a constant during the lifespan of a project. Each stage may need additions or downsizing. It does not preclude you from inviting everyone to celebrate the project completion and you can order more than two pizzas on this occasion.

3. Size matters, but more important are the quality and performance of the team members. Stay humble in expanding your kingdom and bet on quality. Find the best and nurture them. Not with pizzas. At least not only 🙂

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