Critical Roles for Small Teams

There are times to bet on small, well chosen teams. For example, a great deal of innovation occurs when just 2 - 5 people are involved. I have certainly seen this in my own experience. Most of the time, really creative solutions come from handpicking a small group of extremely bright people and giving them a challenge. On the other hand, giving the same challenge to a group of 20 or 30 or more, often results in a slow moving, ponderous process, with mediocre results. Larger groups seem to have too many people who create road blocks. Innovation requires people who can see beyond what is normally done, and not be afraid to explore dramatically new options.

More and more organizations are tapping into this creative ability of small groups by rewarding individuals and small teams who come up with great new ideas without being told to do so. This is a matter of giving people time to chase things that they think are important. A person working on the front lines may well have a brilliant idea that takes them 100 hours to evolve and make practical. Why shouldn't they, and perhaps one of their colleagues, be given the time to bring this benefit to the larger organization. Unfortunately, too many senior leaders do not trust their own people to use good judgment, and they only want people to work on what they've been told to work on. What a great loss of potential.

A senior executive recently expressed the view that small teams are also well suited to developing strategy. Once again, it is a matter of bringing together the right people with the right skill set. Often this means a combination of people who can think at the big picture level, while keeping front-line issues in full sight. It can also mean balancing the group so that both very adventurous people, and more risk averse people participate.

Some people worry that if you don't consult everyone, the organization won't support a major change or shift in strategy. That is not true. The real issue is whether or not the larger group will see the new direction as exciting and viable. So a small team developing strategy must understand this, and make sure that what they bring to the larger organization generates enthusiasm.

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