Recently I read an article about the increased communication effort in larger teams. The idea was to consider how many communication connections there are in a team, depending on the team size.
This diagram shows that there are quickly many communication connections between team members as soon as a team grows a little larger. From this, one could deduce that cooperation in larger teams is inefficient, since the increasing size makes communication and thus decision-making more complex.
But is it true? And if so, for whom and in what case?
For the sake of simplicity, a distinction can be made between a purely hierarchically structured team and an agile team.
If you compare, for example, the professional communication needs in these organisational models, you will see that they can have quite different characteristics.
In a hierarchical team, tasks are delegated to employees by a superior. This instruction is also used to distribute the required information. So not everyone has to talk to everyone about everything in order to do their job. Therefore, such a team does not have an exponential communication effort when the team size changes.
In an agile team that is supposed to organize itself, information must be distributed differently. Basically, everyone in the team should have access to the same information. Since such teams should decide as much as possible independently, a sufficient distribution of information throughout the entire organization is necessary. And this is only possible if the required information is available in the team.
It is also possible that dealing with information is not so much the problem as finding decisions in larger groups.
The decision-making process can certainly be easier in smaller teams. However, in order to be able to make good decisions in larger teams, there are helpful techniques that can be used for this. Unfortunately, these are not very well known, which is why too often the majority decision, the vote by hand sign in the group, is used as the only method.
Particularly affected by complex communication and difficult decisions are often knowledge workers, whose task is to create a joint product or service using their individually specialized knowledge or skills. This is often the case, for example, in consulting tasks, IT projects, telecommunications projects, banking projects and digitization tasks.
In these environments, a product or service is created through highly interactive interaction between many people, as the tasks are very laborious and complicated or even difficult to predict and complex. Therefore, communication must take place between many team members.
In such situations, hierarchical teams are at a disadvantage because communication, information transfer and decisions are basically made via the hierarchical structure. This considerably slows down the development process of a matter. The full potential of the people involved can therefore only be developed with difficulty or slowly.
Communication here should therefore be as direct as possible. In order to promote this, agile methods, if they are well established, are very helpful. An intensive and at the same time goal-oriented communication is necessary and should even be an advantage in this context.
On the other hand, when dealing with known markets and simple products or services that can be planned well, a hierarchical system with central control of information, communication and decision-making can be more effective.
Every form of cooperation has certain characteristics that can be used in a targeted manner. Whether a large team has more communication effort than a small one, or whether an agile way of working is better than a hierarchical one from a communication point of view, depends on many factors. Such connections should be analyzed individually for each organization.
Therefore, the right team size should not be measured by only one characteristic for all organizations. However, it should certainly give food for thought.