On this week’s show, we will be discussing the most optimal innovation team size that will generate the most creativity and innovative ideas. This topic is something that would have helped me much if I had studied and learned it early on in my career. I will also discuss eight types of people that every innovation team needs to be successful.
Innovation Team Size Study
Does team size have an impact? Recently, I read a study done by Jeanne Brett and Dashum Wang from the Kellogg School of Management and Northwestern University titled “If You Want Creativity, Keep Your Team Small”. This study said that large teams solve problems, and small teams generate new problems to solve. As the teams grew from 1-50, the levels of disruptiveness decreased. The large teams delivered value by developing established ideas and used smaller companies to be disruptive.
The issues that impacted teams as they got larger were:
- Relational Loss – the perception of team members that they are working with little support from other members
- Social Loafing – the tendency of the individual group members to contribute less than they would contribute to working in a smaller group or alone.
- Lack of Development Maturity – larger teams tend to look to leaders for direction and motivation. Smaller teams frequently progress to periods of intense productivity fueled by “trust-based” relationships, structures, etc. With five or six people on your innovation team, it is easier to move forward with a common vision for the problem you are trying to solve.
How do you address the innovation team size problem? Through utilizing Multi-Team Systems (MTS), which is the process of breaking down a large team into smaller teams with some form of structural network. Implementing this process will bring efficiency and a higher rate of success.
My Experience with Innovation Team Size
We will now discuss my experience with team sizes throughout my career. My career started at Deltak, where we developed computer and video-based training. This publishing operation required large teams. Later in my career, I joined Thumbscan, which had mid-sized teams of a couple of dozen people, and the lack of efficiency frustrated me. Through my frustration, I branched off to create a product called PCBoot, which ended up winning product of the year at Computer Dealers Exhibition (Comdex), the precursor to Consumer Electronics Show (CES). It took me by myself a long time to build that product to the point where the parent company ran out of money. Through these times, I realized not only how important a team is, but the size of the team as well.
Let’s talk about other teams outside of my direct experiences like Apple Macintosh in the 80s. They came out with the Apple 1, 2, and then the 3, which was not very successful because a large team developed it. Apple’s success came when Steve Jobs hand-picked his MacIntosh team and locked the doors to anyone outside of the team. He separated the team from the larger organization to reduce the risk of large team influence, and it paid off. Now let’s look at the Manhattan Project. It started with a small team and split up into smaller teams in different areas focused on various aspects of the project. Each team knew what they had to generate to contribute to the larger overall objective, and they were very successful. When teams are broken down and given a specific objective, they become efficient in obtaining their specific goal.
My Optimal Innovation Team
I’d like to use a religious reference here. Jesus had twelve disciples, so why would I try to handle more than he could? Throughout my career, I’ve learned that my optimal innovation team size is in the 6-8-person range. If I have more than that, I tend to lose focus and feel less engaged. I would argue that nobody should have more than twelve people directly reporting to them. While the number is essential, the make-up of the team is also important. As a leader, it is your responsibility to bring together an innovation team with the right skillsets.
Here are seven people that I believe are core to any high-impact innovation team:
- The Visionary – the person who is the heart and soul of the idea.
- The Leader – the person who recruits and motivates the best possible team.
- The Mother – the person who is sensitive to everyone and makes sure everyone is taken care of.
- The Energizer – the person who will get it done, sometimes at a cost. They pump energy into the team
- The Customer Advocate – the person who advocates for the customer. They are the voice of the customer on the project.
- Radar O-Reilly – (from the movie and TV show Mash): The person who can find/secure anything you need by understanding the process in an organization.
- The Designer – the designer is no longer a behind the scenes activity.
- Neurodiversity – get people who think differently than you on your innovation team. They can see what others don’t see uniquely.
With these key players on your innovation team, you are that much closer to creating that game-changing product or idea.
Let’s connect; I am on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. If we do connect, drop me a note and let me know. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can go to PhilMcKinney.com and drop me a note there. If you are looking for innovation support, go to TheInnovators.Network or want to be challenged to develop the next big idea, check out our Disruptive Ideation Workshops. Don’t forget to join our Innovators Community to enjoy more conversations around innovation.
To learn more about optimal team sizes, listen to this week's show: The Optimal Innovation Team Size Is.