Size Does Matter

Small teams are better than large ones. Flight Centre allows no more than 7 in a team, and Jeff Bezos from Amazon says unless a team can be fed with two pizzas, the team is too large. (Mind you, the size of a pizza in the USA could feed a small village).

Small teams are known to be productive and engaged, because there’s nowhere to hide. In the seventies, Alan Ingham coined the phrase “social loafing.” It’s self explanatory really, the more people there are, the more I can get away with and the less I have to do.

But for the small team manager or business owner, the upside also has a down side. Because managing people has the ability to turn a perfectly sensible person into a sleep deprived shell of a human being.

Technical skills are easy by comparison. Can you use the system? Can you pull a proposal together? Can you follow this process?

When I had an incentive company 100 years ago I had a small team of women. And the joys of working with women were many. We enjoyed support, nurturing and sharing, lots of birthday cakes and champagne, and the problems of various lovers/husbands/children. Our menstrual cycles matched.

But as I reflected on that time I remember also being incredibly frustrated at the time taken up by “issues.” People who had problems with a client who was hard to deal with. People who didn’t see eye to eye at work and made it personal. Stress leave. Awesome workers who would cut off their arm for you but you’d never know if they were unhappy because they didn’t have the cajones to speak up. People who didn’t contribute in team meetings.

I wish I knew then what I know now. I was just applying a one size fits all management approach in the only way I knew how. My way.

Apparently I would come out of my office saying – right, everyone in the board room for a brainstorm session – we have a problem. I would talk incessantly and then finish the meeting. No wonder people didn’t speak up. I didn’t give them a chance.

And when there was something to celebrate, I’d organise dinner out as a team – with ME. Like who wouldn’t want that as a reward? Turns out lots of people. Hard working introverts who would prefer a monetary reward and alone time more than anything else.

And when they bought me a T shirt that said Does Not Play Well with Others (hello control freak) I took it as a badge of honour.

I’ve been studying human behaviour now since 2004 and I have to tell you that it has changed to way I do business and live my life. If I had more self awareness, understood more about my own management style, and taken the time to learn about different people, what motivates and encourages them, how they learn best – well, it would have been a different and a higher performing team.

They were a great team, it was their leader who was letting them down.

We spend a lot of time out there in the Wasteland of Lost Time and Productivity. Imagine if you could handle “people issues” more efficiently. Imagine if you didn’t have as many people issues to handle. All that money lost in time sorting problems, stress leave, absenteeism and rehiring can go straight to your bottom line.

When you learn more about yourself, your flaws, your strengths, open yourself to feedback, then you become a more effective, engaged and productive leader, and so will your team.

A version of this article was first published in micenet magazine May 2018.

Lynne Schinella is a conference speaker, trainer, coach and author. Her fruit keynote, Working with People You Just Don’t Get, draws on the classic four personality types and explores why we’re different, how we’re different and what we can do about it.

Her book Bite Me! and other do’s and don’t of dealing with our differences provides a more comprehensive profiling tool. We get to take a reluctant look at ourselves and why we don’t make the most of our relationships with others.

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