My Portfolio

Monday, September 9, 2013

Small Team Doesn’t Mean Small business

At times I find myself wishing I had more people on deck to work on cool projects or to build the organization.  After all more people means we can get more stuff done and faster right? However, that can be misleading. People in smaller teams can be more productive because they are more engaged.

More people means more everything

When you have more people you have more of everything as well, the good the bad and the ugly. Working with more people will require greater amounts of coordination and management, to the point where size becomes a road block. 

This is because of the increase in communication overhead as there are now more relationship links to maintain. Communication Overhead would be the amount of time you have to dedicate to communicating with your team instead of working. It is an important part of managing a team and is absolutely necessary, but as the size of your team increases so will your communication overhead.

A simple example from my own experiences would be a project where you need to write a large proposal. I’ve found that a small team of three people is optimal as you can easily resolve issues with consensus quickly gained. Adding more people after that point slows the project down instead of speeding it up. Throwing ten people at the project will give you ten very different ideas and approaches with now a significant increase in the need for communication to reach consensus and agreement. Instead of having the project completed ten times faster it will take far longer to complete.

Even if you have a greater pool of resources with more people, it’s not beneficial if you can’t engage them all effectively. 

Communication Overhead Formula 

This is exemplified in Brook’s law where he creates a formula for communication when it comes to the number of relationship links you will have to manage.

Where N represents the number of people in the team Source: Brooks Law 

  • A small organization of 5 would have 10 relationship links to maintain
  • A organization of 10 would have 45 relationship links to maintain
  • A group of 50 would 1225 relationship links to maintain.

Small teams hold a special power

Just because you have a small team doesn't mean you are a small business. Instagram was acquired by Facebook for $1 billion and at the time their company only had 13 employees. If you’re working with a small team you yield a special power, sometimes beyond your imagination however counter intuitive it may sound. This special power is your ability to better manage relationships, both with your team as well as your customers.

For a team to be successful, it needs to be real
Small and stable teams over a period of time develop the togetherness and bonding which large teams can seldom replicate. Looking behind the science of building great teams, an HBR article highlights how communication plays a critical role in building successful teams:

“Communication indeed plays a critical role in building successful teams. In fact, we’ve found patterns of communication to be the most important predictor of a team’s success. Not only that, but they are as significant as all the other factors—individual intelligence, personality, skill, and the substance of discussions—combined.”

Building trust with customers

Businesses are about building relationships and that is all about trust. Small businesses are better suited when it comes to building personal relationships with customers because of the capability for repeated interactions overtime. With today’s technology it’s possible to extend the number of relationships you can develop as well. You could leverage social media to reach out and develop authentic relationships with local influences to help promote through word and mouth as well as maintain communication with more people.

Our small team success

With our small team at SEEDS Youth Entrepreneurial committee we are having a big impact in our community. We have been able to provide over 400 individuals with entrepreneurial lessons. We’ve partnered up with select high schools to work with youth on creating business plans and implementing them, with some continuing to manage the businesses they start. We have even thrown an business leadership awards event to celebrate entrepreneurship.

We’re able to accomplish so much because we are a small team with everyone engaged, great team relationships and our ability to respond to changes quickly. We have the support of our city and business community and now were moving towards expanding our impact to provide entrepreneurial workshops to seniors, woman, disabled and other groups.

Small teams doesn’t mean small business.

By Stevie Vu , Chair of the Youth Entrepreneurial Committee of SEEDS

Want to know when I publish my next post ? Subscribe to my blog by entering your email at the bottom of the page ! 

subscribe button


  1. I feel that it depends on several factors
    1) If you are able to get the most out of the other 2(or 3 or 4..) members, then that is fine with a small team
    2) The formula is true if and only if everyone in the team considers each other's relationships which is very often not the case ):
    3) Perhaps it would be 'easier' to manage a larger team if there are clearly defined roles and properly established channels of communication (a "hierarchy", for the lack of a better term)

    1. 1) As a human being you can only communicate and maintain a quality relationship with so many people. There is a limit to the number of individuals a person can properly manage directly which refers to the concept of "span of control". Previously, this would have been an average of 1 - 4 individuals but has increased a bit more with the use of technology.
      2) As a leader and team manager maintaining relationships is your challenge. Definitely easier said then done and not very easy.
      3) Most organizations are slowly moving towards flatter organization structures and incorporating the concept of small teams. It would be interesting to hear about examples where larger teams are done well.