Is Your Team Small Enough?

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The ideal team size is between 5 and 10 people.

This is true for all teams, but especially for the one at the Top.

Recently I worked with an Executive Team that had 15 members.

The CEO wanted to improve communication and speed-up decision making.

He believed having a large team would serve this purpose. He also felt it would improve morale and be a great developmental opportunity.

The result was the opposite.

Meeting times doubled. Spirited, passionate discussions stopped taking place.

Superficial knowledge was going unchallenged. Before long, the louder, more extroverted people began to dominate meetings.

The vital Executive Culture of relevant, penetrating discussion simply did not exist.

Other issues were also at play.

  • The large group size made building trust more difficult. There was not enough ‘psychological safety’ in place. This made it hard to air real feelings.
  • People only engaged in meetings when the topic involved them. If it had to do with another part of the business they simply switched off.

The combined effect of all the above meant that important decisions were not being made. Valuable opportunities were being missed.

This team had a problem.

The real achievers were frustrated. One of the stars on the team even confided in me that she was ready to leave.

Instead of buying-in, people were checking out.

On a high-performing Executive Team, everyone is expected to weigh in.

Frank views must be expressed. These must be debated and subjected to the critical analysis of others. Deadlocks must be broken and closure reached on important issues.

All this, while still maintaining the relationships required to work together.

The best teams have mastered this ability.

It’s why team size is so important. With more than 10 people around the table, it is difficult to have this kind of rigorous and inclusive dynamic in place.

This was a huge test for the CEO. A test, he had to confront head-on.

The company too had its challenges.

Their industry was changing rapidly. There was massive competition from bigger, more dominant, global players. They had to move fast to stay alive.

Building a cohesive, highly responsive, and credible Executive Team was vital.

There was an added complication.

I discovered that deep down he feared conflict.

This was actually the main reason why the team size issue had not been resolved. His aversion to conflict meant that the uncomfortable decisions about who was on the team were never taken.

He did not want to alienate, upset, or disappoint those around him.

What happened?

There was no overnight shift. This seldom happens. But today real change is underway.

Working with him, the CEO came to see that his most important job was fixing the team. Getting the team size right and deciding who sits in the key seats was something that only he could do.

Today, the team size has been reduced. The right people are now in the key seats. It’s a major achievement.

This has unlocked many positive benefits for the business.

  • There is a different spirit in the Executive. A new culture of straight talk and shared accountability is taking hold. This has set a fresh tone for the rest of the business.
  • Silo thinking has made way for a new era of working together. There is a key initiative in place to dismantle the bureaucracy strangling innovation and creativity.
  • The Executive and the next layer of leadership are collaborating as partners. A new way of working, based on trust, openness, and two-way communication is in place. Productivity and morale have greatly improved.

One year ago this business was inward-looking. It was at risk of losing its way.

Ironically, being inclusive at the wrong time, created frustration and resentment. This, coupled with the failure to make key decisions, damaged the credibility of the leadership team.

Today there is hope.

The energy of the business has shifted. Now they are focussed outward. Most importantly … serving the customer has become their #1 priority again.

What’s the lesson?

  1. To be healthy an organisation needs a credible Executive Team. Getting the size and composition of this team right is the 1st step in establishing this credibility.
  2. Taking the step is an essential challenge that cannot be avoided or delayed. It may feel hard and difficult to do so. Some people may even get upset and leave. But it’s a risk worth taking.
  3. The real risk ultimately is in not doing so. There is too much at stake. The productivity and spirit of your business depend on it!

We would love to hear from you. Please comment below.

What about your team … is it the right size? Does it have a culture of straight talk and shared accountability? Can real feelings be aired?

PS:

Write to me at grant@leadershipworks.co.za to find out about our new Team Survey. It’s a great tool. Simple, practical, and delivered virtually. Discover what’s really going on in your team and how to make it better.

 

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