Pursue What Matters
Episode 193: 4 Takeaways for Better Teams
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Is your team too big? Do you get lost in endless tangents without making meaningful decisions? Well, you might have too many voices and not enough direction.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:13
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focused on what it takes to thrive and love and work. So in our new enlightened work world, we want everyone to have a seat at the table. And there’s nothing wrong with that there’s so much good in, in having diverse voices and perspectives at the table. There’s so much about that approach that is incredibly valuable. And I want to be really clear about that. But a point that I want to talk about today is that if we’re not careful, this desire can lead to bloated leadership teams, which leads us less effective as teams. So what can that lead to ineffective meetings, we have too many people, not enough structure, not enough organization, it’s hard. Even if you have a lot of voices in the room, it’s hard to get those voices heard. It’s hard to be able to really look at the different perspectives. Clearly. You also this can lead to frustrated team members, right? Because, hey, I’m here. But what’s the point, there’s so much static in the room. And it can also result in very little progress on strategic priorities. And so today, I want to help you assess your team size, and effectiveness. Because when it comes to team size, and effective decision making, size, indeed, does matter. And so every week with the podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence to lead in one of three areas.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:09
So leading with clarity, having a sense of purpose, where are you going? And why does it matter, leading with curiosity, being able to be self reflective and self aware, so you can lead yourself better? And then of course, leading and building a community? So how do we build better teams? How do we communicate more effectively? And so today, with the podcast, we are looking a little bit at clarity, so purpose, strategic focus, that really matters. But primarily we’re focusing on leading and building a community. So how can you make your team’s the folks you work with your organization more effective, and this is regardless of your position, of course. And so let’s jump right in with our first point. And that is that work across the world across the globe is increasingly team based. So globally, we are seeing a real shift towards more team based work. Now there’s a lot that is facilitating that, right. It’s easier than ever to communicate, to collaborate. And we recognize the benefits of collaboration, right? We have more innovation, we make better decisions, we get better ideas. But again, in our desire for everyone to have a seat at the table, we, if we’re not careful, we can render our teams ineffective. And so this is absolutely not an argument against diversity. It is an argument for discipline, when it comes to organizing your teams, making effective decisions, and tackling strategic priorities.
Dr. Melissa Smith 3:45
So I’m absolutely a huge fan of diversity. There’s tons of benefits of that. I’m talking about the size of your team, I’m talking about having discipline when it comes to the makeup of your teams and how you drive decisions. And so the majority of us work on teams for either part or all of our work. If you know, I think there are very few pure individual contributors, meaning you don’t have any input from anyone else on your work and you don’t give input to anyone else on their work, I would be shocked. So even when we think about some, you know, some of my background in the clinical world that is traditionally considered pretty individual work, right? You could work by yourself for your career, seeing clients individually, do your own scheduling, do your own billing, and never have an interaction with a colleague. Now I don’t think that’s a very wise way to approach clinical work, but you certainly see it happens. But for every field, including the clinical world, we are increasingly becoming team based right so for it to continue the exam. With the clinical world, right clinicians really see the value of collaboration, they recognize that if they don’t have consultation and supervision and collaboration, they put themselves on a path to burnout. And so even for clinicians where the face to face work is primarily individual, right, like, you might not need a big team to do what you’re doing clinically, the benefits of having of working with a team and collaborating and consulting and troubleshooting, right, like getting support in those tough clinical situations, is highly valuable and needed. So the ability so across industries, the ability to work well in a team is a highly desired skill by companies in almost every industry.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:46
So we’re in a hiring phase, at our organization. And I can tell you, one of the first things I’m really paying attention to, is how will this individual add to our team. So sometimes we talk about culture fit. And what I would recommend is that we actually look for culture at, we don’t want someone just like the rest of us, we want someone who can get along with the team. But we want someone who’s going to add maybe a diverse perspective, a diverse skill set, a unique way of entering the work, of course, that goes along with they’ve got to be competent, they’ve got to have the appropriate skills and credentials. But we want to know, we want to work with someone who can work well with others, right. So more than 50% of workers in the US say that their jobs are reliant on collaboration. And I would say it’s probably even higher than that. If we were to look globally, and about 75% of employees rate, teamwork and collaboration as being very important, right. So this is a no brainer, we get that this is important. And 86% of employees in leadership positions blame a lack of collaboration as the top reason for workplace failures, right. So when we don’t play well with others on our team, when we don’t work well with others, it leads to major workplace failures, whether that is around failures of culture, and collaboration, whether that is failures around product development, success with launches, effective marketing, so it has a huge impact. Companies that promote collaboration and communication at work have been linked to reducing employee turnover rates by 50%. So if you want to save some money on your bottom line, focus on more effective teams, because this can make a huge difference in employee turnover. And we know employee turnover is incredibly costly for organizations, and also take so much time, right, which is one of the costs.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:53
So employees are on average, 17% more satisfied with their job when they engage in collaboration at work. So if we’re in our cubbies by ourselves all day, we’re less happy at work, we’re less satisfied, we’re less tied to purpose and mission. And so we need to engage, we need to collaborate. This is a real consideration. For those of you who are remote workers. Or if you have a hybrid model and make sure that you’re still supporting and prioritizing collaboration, even with remote work, it’s more important than ever, with remote work. And so over the last 20 years, workplace collaboration has increased by at least 50%. So again, we’re doing a lot more collaboration. So this leads us to our first team takeaway, which is that you need to be intentional about how you organize and prioritize teams in order to leverage the many benefits of teamwork, right? So teams are great teamwork is really important. But we want to be intentional in thinking about how we organize our teams. Because if if we’re not, if we’re not thoughtful about that process, we can render the benefits of teamwork null and void.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:14
So we need to, you know, let’s let’s not work against ourselves. So in addition to having more people on a task, team members have diverse skills and perspectives, which has a multiplying effect on the work so you have a lot more skills being aimed at problem solving. And so this leads us to our second team takeaway. So for higher performance, if you want higher performance at your organization, you need to prioritize effective teamwork and collaboration. So don’t have teamwork. As an afterthought, actually build it into your organization, build it into your work week, build it into the schedule. So now let’s head to our third point. which is however, teams can be too much of a good thing. So there’s always a caveat to almost every principle. So it’s true that teams can also be too much of a good thing. And so what do I mean by that? So what this means is that the larger the team, the more effort and overhead it takes to keep people organized, involved, and productive, right. And so this just acknowledges that in facilitating a team managing a team, it requires some effort and some energy. And so you, again, like, let’s prioritize teamwork. But But, but be proactive about it, right? Don’t do that, as an afterthought. Don’t just think if we get all these people in a room, we’re going to be effective, I guarantee you, you won’t. And it’s worse than just no harm, right? It does create harm, because it really erodes a strong culture, it erodes motivation, it actually feeds disconnection. And so these are some of the ways that we kind of get caught, and where teams can become too much of a good thing.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:13
And so the first one is that we have a failure to identify a clear purpose. This is a big one that I see with teams. When I’m going into to do trainings and coaching leaders fail to identify a clear purpose for various teams and meetings. What are your team’s why do they exist? Right? So this is all about purpose. So what you end up having is everyone, right, too many people in the meeting with very little direction, this leads to frustrated team members, there’s nothing worse than sitting in a meeting, and not knowing what the purpose is, and how you can even contribute. Right? Like, that’s very frustrating. It also leads to a lack of vision and purpose, right? We just end up spinning our wheels. So yeah, like we’re meeting and we can say we met and, you know, check that off and feel good about it. But have you actually done anything that is valuable, it also leads to stalled progress. So we sit in those meetings, and we just spin our wheels. So another problem where teams can be too much of a good thing is we worry about hurt feelings and perceptions. And so I primarily see this with leaders who worry that, hey, if this person isn’t in on this team, or isn’t part of this meeting, they’re gonna have hurt feelings.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:41
So what does it mean if A is at the table, but B is not right? Because people can tend to compare, they can come up with stories, right? In the absence of data, we make up stories. And so instead of making a strong case, for why certain members are on a team, and others are not, what happens is that leaders just invite them all in, and thereby they render the team less effective. This is a failure of leadership. Right? This is conflict avoidance, this is worrying too much about feelings, and failing to be direct, because here’s the thing, you don’t know how people feel about it. And ultimately, as a leader, you’ve got to do what’s best for the team, and what’s best for the organization. And so it is cowardly, not to make those determinations and have those conversations. And so as a leader, you must, you must decide, like what’s best in terms of direction, and it doesn’t mean you have to make those decisions alone, right? Like you can, you can gain feedback. Because, you know, a lot of times people will say, I don’t know why I’m in this meeting. I don’t think this is a good use of my time. I don’t know, like, I think we have too many decision makers. I have certainly heard that from team members. And so again, we need to be direct and respectful in our communication and be willing to have these conversations. And so you know, for those who are on a team, but they really shouldn’t be, they may feel very confused and or frustrated as to the point and purpose of them being involved. The the corollary of this, right, so we have leaders who worry about her feelings, and then we can also the other side of that coin is that we can have team members who are overly concerned with perceived status. So what does it mean to be on a leadership team? Does it mean that you have access to power? Does it mean you’re part of decision making? Like is it really effective? And so if we are making decisions about team composition, based on concerns about feelings, and concerns about perceived status, we are leading in correctly, that’s not right, we need to take a step back and look out what is best for the organization, who do we need at the table to make the most effective decisions in this area, and then be disciplined about how you compose your teams. And so this brings us to our third team takeaway, which is that team composition should be determined by strategic priorities, and organizational needs, not relationships, not status, not feelings, not titles, okay, you can tell I feel very strongly about that. Because I care about being effective, right? I care about your team’s being successful. And we make art we render ourselves so incredibly ineffective when we base decisions on these relationships, status feelings, and not the cold, hard facts of what are our strategic priorities and our organizational needs. And here’s what’s true, when we are when we can be clear about our purpose, and we have a worthy purpose, right. And that’s important, then doing what’s best for the organization is best for team members. Right? Because that that brings in job security, that also helps every other team member to be most effective, to have clarity about how they can contribute to the higher good. I think also, sometimes team leaders, their own beliefs about status gets in the way, because they assume that people will want to be in the meeting, they will perceive that status the same way the leader does. And they might not like there might not have any value around that. And so again, that’s not a good reason to have someone on a team.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:50
Okay, so this leads us to our fourth and final point, which is we want to aim for a Goldilocks size team, right? So we think about Goldilocks, not too small, not too big, but just right. And so researchers have studied the challenging trade offs of teams for the past 150 years, right. So there’s a lot of research on this. And the more and more we’re working on teams, we have even better data, right? Because we have more teams to study, we have more teams in diverse settings. And so again, some of this information comes to us from Eric Larsen, from Forbes, I will link to that article. And so the first point here is that size matters. So there was a landmark study done in the 1970s. That found that a Goldilocks size team, so one that is not too small, and not too big is right around 4.6 people. So right, we’re not advocating that you cut someone in half, right? In the real world. Obviously, this rounds up to about five people. But we also have some additional research. So more recently, right? Because that Goldilocks research was done in the 70s. But more recently, researchers from Bain consulting found that after the seventh person in a decision making group, and listen, you’ve got to listen to this. Each extra member reduces decision effectiveness by 10%. Okay, when I read that finding, my jaw dropped open like that is staggering. So you have a group, you think, Hey, we’re doing really well, after the seventh person, when you add the eighth person, your decision making effectiveness drops by 10%. And then you add a nice person, you’re down now by 20%, and a 10th. person, you’re now down by 30%. And so as you add more people past seven, you are making your team dumber, you aren’t making your team less effective, less efficient, do not do that to yourself. I have worked with teams where they have leadership teams, composed of 15 to 20 people, that’s incredibly ineffective. And this is what’s interesting to me, it’s so curious to me, because when I say why do you have your team so big? Often the response is, we need more perspectives, right? Like I need this information from from all the stakeholders across the organization so that I can make better decisions. And so the response that I always have back is when you bloat your leadership team, you are losing all of the benefit of those perspectives, because you can’t make effective decisions with that many people in the room right, the decisions actually end up being worse. So you’re better off having a smaller team than the big team. And so this argument of I need all the perspectives in the room. It’s it doesn’t stand now we do want the perspectives in the room, but There are more effective ways to get those perspectives. So this is not an argument against input. It’s not an argument about perspectives, it’s looking at what are the most effective ways to get those perspectives. And having a bloated leadership team is not the way to do that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:17
Okay. And so when we look at this research and hold, the broader consensus splits the difference with an ideal team size of about six people. So that’s really what we’re shooting for. So if you’re thinking about a leadership team, or an executive team, six is what you’re aiming for. Because that is the point where personal and group performance is at its highest. So if you want people to bring their best work to the table, keep it to six. And that has a synergistic effect, right, where the six people at the table are going to be the most effective as a group. And then the other point is that the complexity of running the team is still manageable, right? If I have, you know, some some big decision that I really need some voices on pretty quickly, because we’ve got a tight deadline, just think about this, if you’re a leader, it’s much easier to get in contact with five people and get that perspective than it is with 20. People, when it comes to Oh, my gosh, like, I gotta talk this over with 20 people? Well, first of all, you probably won’t do it just because it requires so much, or it takes so much time and then you’re past the deadline, or you have the meeting. And people don’t have enough clarity about the situation. And so you don’t actually get the support that you need. And so at the end of that meeting, you have less clarity and less help in making the decision.
Dr. Melissa Smith 21:44
So the key here to really remember is that when it comes to decisions, none of us is smarter than six of us. Okay, so six is that sweet spot. And so from Susan Schneider, she’s she shares some research. So she’s a researcher, she’s also look at the research of others with teams. And I will also link to some of her research. So this is what she’s shown that our own, and others Research has consistently shown that outstanding executive teams are small. So she’s saying ideally, no more than nine people. But if we’re going with the broader consensus, we’re keeping it to about six. So once so this is, again, from Schneider, once you get above that number, it is exponentially harder to create the conditions that enable good decision making about the paradoxes that organizations face today.
Dr. Melissa Smith 22:39
So it’s not just incrementally harder to to have the conditions for good decision making, it’s exponentially harder, okay, so don’t undermine your self. And so we can also write like, we can look directly at the benefits of team decision making. And this again, comes to us from Eric Larsen. So you can directly measure the benefits of team decision making, using the clover pop business decision database. So you can you can dig in there and take a look at how you know the quality of decisions. And so on average, teams make better decisions 75% of the time, right. So we should be using our teams, this is not an argument against teams. The other finding is if we look at the benefits of team decision making is that teams rarely do worse than managers and executives deciding alone. So for that example, that I just shared a few minutes ago, if you’re a leader, you’ve got to make this decision, you’ve got a tight timeline, you should definitely take the time to call the other five members of your executive leadership team, you should not try to make that decision alone. But the point is, it’s much harder to make that call to 15 people or even to 10 people. And so what happens is you end up deciding alone, or you try and have the meeting, and there’s so much static on the line that it doesn’t really help you with the decision. Okay. So the other point here is that sense decision making drives business performance in such in such important ways, right? Like it, it really makes a huge difference. That decision advantage goes straight to the bottom line. So when we make better decisions where we are more profitable, we are more successful. We we grow in the marketplace, if that might be our goal. And so that leads us to our fourth team takeaway, which is for better decision making keep teams to seven or fewer members. Okay, and then I hope you will join me next week as we discussed the unique role of the team leader in cultivating effective teams. So you team leaders, I’m talking to you. There are specific skills and attributes that we want you to pay attention to, to all To help leverage the effectiveness of that team, so I hope you will consider joining me next week for that conversation.
Dr. Melissa Smith 25:07
So just as Review. Today we talked about having more effective teams and we had 4 team takeaways. Number one, be intentional about how you organize and prioritize teams in order to leverage the many benefits of teamwork. Take away two for higher performance, prioritize effective teamwork and collaboration. Takeaway three, team composition should be determined by strategic priorities and organizational needs, not relationships, status, feelings, or titles. And then our fourth team takeaway for better decision making keep teams to seven or fewer members. And so I certainly hope this is helpful for you.
Dr. Melissa Smith 25:54
Head over to my website to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/193-4teamtakeaways, and that is the number 4. So one more time www.drmelissasmith.com/193-4teamtakeaways Of course, I will link to some of the research I mentioned today in the podcast. I hope you will consider joining me on Instagram @dr.melissasmith, I will have all of these benefits listed and provided for you in posts throughout the week. So if you want to dig a little bit deeper, that’s a great way to do that. And I would love it if you would consider reviewing the podcast on apples or Apple or Spotify. I really do appreciate your feedback and I want to bring information that’s helpful to you in your leadership both at home and at work. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care
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