What Is the Optimal Innovation Team Size?

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When studying different companies and their cultures, you will notice different team structures. The question of which structure is the best may eventually cross your mind. Some companies have large teams, while others operate with small, close-knit groups. I believe there is an optimal innovation team size that leads to killer ideas when it comes to innovation.

Optimal Innovation Team Size

Studies on Team Size

The question of the day is this: Does team size genuinely have an impact? I reviewed a collaboration study done a while ago by the Kellogg School of Management and Northwestern University. The premise: large teams are problem solvers, and small teams are problem generators. The study showed that as the teams grew from one member to fifty members, their creativity decreased. The large teams focused on developing already known ideas, and the small teams focused on ideating new ideas.

As teams grew in size, different things impacted them. Firstly, team members suffered relational losses. They felt disconnected from other team members. Secondly, there was a tendency for the individual to contribute less on a large team than they would in a smaller one. Thirdly, when it came to large teams, they often sought out a leader to guide them. The smaller teams did not have a main leader but functioned off trusting each other and focusing on a common mission or vision.

A great way to combat innovation team size issues is through Multi-Team Systems (MTS). This process breaks down larger teams into smaller ones and establishes a structure. Utilizing MTS will lead to better team efficiency, which will lead to better ideas.

My Experience and Other’s

Allow me to share my experience with team sizes. I started my career at Deltek, which functioned with large teams. I later joined Thumbscan, which had medium-sized teams that were not the most efficient. When I left this team to build my product, I realized how hard it was to develop something without a team. This taught me the importance of being part of a team and the importance of that team’s size.

One outside example that shows the importance of team size comes from Apple in the 1980s. The company was utilizing large teams, coming out with the Apple 1, 2, and 3. These efforts had turned out unsuccessful. As a result, Steve Jobs picked a small exclusive team to work on MacIntosh. He did this to avoid any outside influence from the company. This move led to enormous success for Apple. The bottom line, when teams are separated and given a specific mission to focus on, they reach a point of efficiency, leading them to achieve their goal.

What is the Optimal Innovation Team Size?

From my experience with teams, I have concluded that the optimal innovation team size is 6-8 people. Any more than that, and the team members might lose focus and feel disconnected. In my opinion, nobody should have more than twelve people that directly report to them. Not only is the team size important, but the makeup of the team as well. A team needs visionaries, leaders, energizers, designers, etc. A team with the right combination of skillets will cultivate innovation success.

To know more about the optimal innovation team size, listen to this week's show: What Is the Optimal Innovation Team Size?

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