One of our fundamental beliefs is that teams are the instruments of change in an organisation. Companies are comprised of big and small teams. However, in today's COVID-19 world, flexible team sizes are a must. Small teams are how companies will be able to climb the resilience curve.
Teams change culture
At Friday Pulse, this belief has its roots in post-war Britain.
Founder Nic Marks' father was the CEO of a 3,000-person business that manufactured sweets and candies, a well-known brand in the UK known as Trebor. At the time, Trebor was a family-owned business. Because of this, he was thrown into the deep end at a young age and appointed a manager of a large factory at 25. He quickly figured out that he knew very little compared to the employees that had been working there for as long as he'd been alive. This experience turned him into a ‘facilitative leader’ – he brought out the best in people, rather than told them what to do.
It was this life lesson that shaped how Nic thought about designing measurement tools to promote wellbeing and positivity at work. "Whatever you do, make it work at the team level," is, ultimately, a fundamental design feature of how Friday Pulse works.
What Nic's father learned by intuition can now be confirmed by data — local team culture is over eight times more influential on our experience of work than the overall organisational culture.
How microcultures impact performance
At Friday Pulse, we talk extensively about identifying and understanding the different microcultures within your company to change the overall culture of your organisation. Long-term, lasting success ultimately depends on happy, high-performing teams.
|Low performing||High performing|
|Happy||Slacking teams||GREAT teams|
|Unhappy||Miserable teams||Burnt out teams|
Let's take a look at football (soccer for our American friends) to illustrate the point.
A typical team has ten outfield players and one goalkeeper. These players form smaller groups — backs, midfielders and forwards — with specific roles and responsibilities. We all know a great team when we see it in action. They enjoy playing together. They consistently create scoring opportunities. They win.
We use terms like “chemistry” to talk about their ability to execute. The chemistry between the forwards and a striker leads to prolific scoring and offensive dominance. Chemistry can be defined as its own microculture — their personalities, interactions and rituals. In turn, their attitudes affect other positional players and the overall team bond.
The reverse is also true. As the bond between teammates breaks down, so too does their level of success. Sports fans can point to any number of teams that have fallen apart after a winning streak comes to an end, or unhappy players that underperform.
In business, we form teams because we expect that the benefits of teamwork in the workplace will produce better results. High-performing teams are very similar to successful sports teams — they communicate well, get along with each other, and are generally happier. Because there are nearly as many microcultures as there are teams, winning the hearts and minds of your teams will ultimately shape your company's performance.
Is there an ideal team size?
Sports team sizes range from anywhere between 4-12 people. However, is this the right size for teams in the workplace? Amazon’s Jeff Bezos once said, "If you can't feed a team with two pizzas, it's too large."
A study of a 2015 Nobel prize-winning team found that small and large teams both had their benefits. Small teams were great at disrupting the status quo with new ideas, inventions and opportunities. Large teams were suited for solving problems, executing and building on ideas. They are fantastic for working on the logistics of big projects but also have more communication issues and are typically risk-averse.
The truth is, we need both. But, we believe that smaller teams of four or five people are ideal. Psychologists talk about a skill known as ‘mentalising’ — an essential building block for empathy. We can only really pay attention to three or four other people at any one time. This is why, when we are chatting in a small group and more people join the conversation tends to split into two groups. We cannot keep all the people "in mind" at the same time. Thus, small teams allow for easier collaboration and communication, especially with the tech and pandemic work restrictions currently in place.
We will always need large teams to tackle large problems. However, these large teams should be made up of smaller teams for better communication and collaboration. It's essential to make sure that teams interact, so that cross-fertilisation occurs — shared ideas across teams — and silos don't form.
How do you support your teams?
Great teams communicate well, collaborate and challenge each other. Here's how you can support your remote teams during this time:
It's easier to focus on people and have more participation in a small group. Larger calls will also have people that don't actively participate — social loafers. Use smaller groups so that teams and team leaders can connect with everyone effectively.
Encourage team leaders to be more facilitative
With increased remote working and smaller groups, team leaders should devote more time to their teams. Encourage team leaders to become more facilitative and more intentional in their interactions and interventions. Delegating more will free up their own time and help them identify synergies between team members better.
Laugh a little
Maybe it's not always about business first. Generate some fun laughter in your meetings to relax your team and improve their bond. Laughter sparks laughter, and real laughter is one of the best ways to keep your teams emotionally connected.
Try tackling work together live in small teams — virtual meeting software can be used to complete work in small groups. By using functions like screen share, teams can be more collaborative, commenting on live documents and even annotating as discussions develop.
How can Friday Pulse support your teams?
Friday Pulse tracks employee wellbeing. During this pandemic period, we are committed to helping businesses bounce back and improve their team morale. That's why we are continuing to offer companies and teams (50 – 1,000 employees) free access to our Friday Pulse people platform for 12 weeks.
For more information on how we can help your organization weather the crisis please contact our Head of Helping People, Clive Steer at firstname.lastname@example.org.