The power of small teams


If you search up the phrase “power of small teams,” you’ll find lots of conventional wisdom.

I just would like to say, to all of that conventional wisdom: Yeah. Right on. Yup. And there apparently is a substantial body of academic research on the matter, too.

And there’s the line attributed to Margaret Mead.

I’m thinking about a large number of projects that I’ve worked on, and how and why they’ve thrived or withered. Once the responsibility lands on the shoulder of too many people, then it’s easy for everybody to reprioritize the effort. If you’re doing it on your own, then you have the honor of doing it all yourself. But once a project has a small number of other people on board and invested, then things can really get rolling.

But with a small group, you have different skills sets and realms of expertise, so work can be done more efficiently and effectively. And of course, a diversity of perspectives results in higher quality work. Once too many people start working on a project, though, things will gum up in so many different ways.

When I was in a workshop where I learned to think about Service as Leadership, I got a bit of structured exposure to the development of small teams as effective units. Since that time, whenever I’ve been involved in a project, I’ve thought about optimal group size and group composition when starting or joining a new project. Sometimes it’s hard to not bring in people you want to bring in, and it’s hard to say no to something that looks too unwieldy, and sometimes it’s hard to invite people you don’t know as well but really have perspectives that are needed.

No grand wisdom is proffered here, though you can imagine how this principle can apply to how we do research in our labs, how we run collaborations, as well as how we might teach with group-based learning.

Okay, holiday vacation is quickly approaching and I’m staring at a couple deadlines, so I’m getting back to that. Have a pleasant end-of-semester!

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