What’s the ideal number of people in a work team or committee?
If you are responsible for arranging work teams or committees, the thought has probably struck you: what is the most productive number of people to place in a team? Despite the humorous old saying that states you need a committee of one person for best results, having others in your team builds creativity and spreads the workload, allowing you to achieve your outcome faster and more effectively.
Often we have little choice over how many people are on a committee or team we are involved with. We just have to accept the number of people who are on the team by circumstance or because they represent larger stakeholder groups. As President of the State branch of my PR association, I had to accept nominations from members for branch council membership, whether they had much merit or not.
Vary the number of people according to the purpose
Where the number in the work team is variable, the size of the group depends on the type of task the group is engaged in, the number of people who are available or relevant, the extent of specialist skills required and the urgency and importance of the task. A team of two or three people may be sufficient for a small project. On the other hand, if team members merely come together to discuss results, as in a sales team, a largish number isn’t a problem.
Ideal number is 5-6
However, if given the chance, you should have a view about the ideal number of people you want to appoint to a team. Research by the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and other researchers points to five or six people being the ideal number in a group that has to accomplish a significant amount of work. When the number grows bigger than this, the productivity per person starts reducing.
Certainly groups comprising more than eight or nine people are inefficient because they allow some members to coast (‘social loafing’), and their size allows cliques and sub-teams to form, each with their own agenda, which can derail the outcome.
Having six people including you as chairperson is good because if you need to put a vote to the team, a decision can always be made by the team members in their own right as there is an odd number of five in the team plus you. Thus there can never be a stalemate or drawn vote unless a member abstains or is absent.
Try to avoid a team meeting by email; try to get them to meet in the flesh. Teams who meet face-to-face are more successful than those who rely only on email. Being in the same room together leads to more productive outcomes for the team.
(The Wharton research findings are publicly available for free from the Knowledge@Wharton newsletter, but you have to subscribe to the newsletter first.)