I (and almost everyone else) have spoken frequently on the importance of smart collaboration and good teamwork. A recent column in Forbes magazine, “Team Management: Think Small and Agile” by Rich Karlgaard, highlighted one element of creating optimal teams that I had neglected: team size. Karlgaard stresses that in an age of swiftly moving technology, teams become more important because humans do not evolve as quickly as the rate of Moore’s Law. People are the slowest-moving parts in complex organizations, effectively becoming the gating factor. To open this gate, you need to form nimble teams that not only make the people less of a gate, but also turn them back into resources.
The Two-Pizza Rule
There is an optimal size for every team, and it is usually smaller than you think. It starts with Jeff Bezos’ “two pizza” rule (there is some argument as to who created the term, but I always defer to Bezos): If it takes more than two pizzas to feed the team, the team is likely too big (As I am based in Chicago, I may want to drop that to a one-pizza rule, because two deep-dish pizzas can feed a lot of people).
Karlgaard points to two reasons the two-pizza rule works:
- It keeps teams agile and fast.
- With teams less than 12 people, teammates are much more likely to care about each other and share information. If the mission is important enough, they will even sacrifice potential benefits to themselves (in an extreme example, the US Army’s Special Forces use 12-person Operational Detachment Alpha teams, and team members will sacrifice themselves for the team achieving its mission).
On a small team, someone will stay up all night to improve another’s presentation or an engineer will troubleshoot someone else’s work to ensure a product is perfect at launch. Once a team begins to scale, team members may still care about each other but it is less likely to be top of mind.
Ways game companies can leverage the benefits of small teams
This insight about team size does not mean you should not grow to more than 12 (though you do need to make sure you are building your team for the right reasons). As you grow, though, you should focus on having people work on teams of twelve or less. Even large companies like SAP and FedEx split into units of 8 to 12. This can be done through development pods, product feature teams, QA groups, etc. Always look at 12 as the maximum you want any of these teams to grow.