Secrets to efficiency in small teams

Have you ever wondered why people gather in groups / teams? Well firstly it’s because we are more or less very social creatures and mostly like to hang out with others. Then, there is obviously the fact, that when it comes to efficiency one plus one doesn’t always equal two. Two people can sometimes do a lot more than twice as much as one.

But is there a limit to this? Is there a magical number when the additional team member actually negatively influences the team’s performance?

Some leaders of internationally successful companies obviously have an answer and psychologists backed it up with some real science. One of the most famous rules about the optimum group size is one that came from the mouth of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. It is called the “Two pizza rule” and goes something like this:

“Never have a meeting where two pizzas couldn’t feed the entire group.”

This rule shows a very good starting point when forming a group, but puts a very vague guess to the actual number so let’s take a look at what psychologists say about it after some more detailed research.

Apparently it’s not the size of the group itself that is destroying the group’s efficiency, but rather the number of links between group’s members. Graph below nicely shows how the number of links grows if the number of the members increases. It follows this simple statistical equation:   where n is the number of links and x-presents the number of members in the team.

From this it can be deduced that communication in the team plays a crucial role when it comes to efficiency. If the team is too big it can either take to long for everybody to express their ideas / beliefs or it might happen that some people just agree with the prepositions already on the table and don’t share their own (even though they might be better).

But this communication problem isn’t the only thing that keeps the big team’s efficiency at lower rates. Researches also showed that people in bigger teams tend to feel less connected and appreciated than in smaller ones. They also expressed their concerns about who to contact when they find themselves in any kind of job related troubles.

The last bigger drawback of the large teams is that bigger teams tend to get overconfident with their productivity. This can then make them underestimate the time needed to finish a task.  A test at the Lego factory showed that two people actually needed 44% less time to build the same Lego figure than four people working on the same task.

So to summon up, most of the experts agree that the number of people on a team should not exceed 10. If it does, some dividing into smaller groups should be considered in order to maintain the high level of participation and efficiency.

All of that leads to us – Team Red Panda. We are a small group consisting of around eight members (depending on how strict your rules about groups are). We work together in our small office where the flow of innovative ideas, reasonable critiques and witty comments get exchanged on regular basis contributing to never ending process of mutual growth and improvement.

And by the way, every time we ordered two pizzas there were leftovers, so obviously we might have a bright future in front of us. 😛

2 thoughts on “Secrets to efficiency in small teams

  • I work with a small team of five members including me and I know that every member need to contribute equally with equal enthusiasm for the proper functioning of the team. This post is of great help to me and I will also how this to all my team members. Keep up the good work

  • Hello there. Google pointed me here when I was searching for an outline shader.

    As a predominantly lone worker (and overall person :P) I can to say from experience that I’m generally better off working alone than with a friend. I agree that a well-structured team can really push all its members much better than they could push themselves individually, but that requires careful planning and organization – ideally somebody in charge of doing all of that without being an authoritarian figure.
    In very small teams (<5), where generally there's one specialist in each field (typically code, visual art, sound art and PR+QA) the individual motivations of each member matters a lot, that to me is what explains the results in the Lego factory, which has absolutely no scientific validity by the way. Unless each individual is well motivated and disciplined you need good team management, which apparently you guys have.

    That's just my 2¢ of course… Just wanted to point out that in my opinion scaling isn't as simple as adding more people not even in very small teams, while the 'right' two or three guys can surely make all the difference in the world (got the ref? :P) generally speaking chances are it's gonna be a disaster. I think the numbers we hear often are reasonable, but I'm definitely not a fan of numbers set in stone, I believe the best team is composed of one or two specialists in each field and decent management, but whatever number you may come up with to fulfill that. Educational games development for example may take a lot of people. In most scenarios the number you'll end up is less than 10, but if it's not I really don't see that automatically as a bad thing since I've seen much bigger teams working perfectly fine. As long as it works the number doesn't matter in my opinion.

    Anyway, your game studio is awesome :). I was reading about Slovenia the other day and it seems a lovely country. I'm surely visiting someday. Keep up the good work.

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