Why I like small teams

by jeffhilimire on September 30, 2010

Having founded a company that was, well, 2 people when it started, and having grown that company to around 75 people before joining with Engauge which is roughly a 300 person agency, I’ve seen the many dynamics of small and large teams.  And now that I run the Digital Innovation Group (DIG) at Engauge, I’ve come full circle from having that first small team in 1998 to now having another small team.

And I love it.  I love the small team feel, the culture, the energy, the…everything.

I’ve read a few books that talk about the importance of keeping teams small.  And I love this post by 37 Signals talking about team sizes.  In particular, they reference two-pizza teams, which basically means you shouldn’t have a team that two pizza’s can’t feed.  I LOVE THAT.

In The Tipping Point (affiliate link), Malcom Gladwell talks about the way team size is looked at within Gore Tex (thanks @casey_burns for the link).  Read that book for many reasons but the team size stuff is great.  The Mythical Man Month (affiliate link) also talks about team size in a unique way (thanks @adams472 for the link).

Here is a list of the reasons I like small teams.  Feel free to add to it or counter these points.

  • ENERGY — The energy in a small team, if you pick the right players (more on that later), can be extremely high and focused.  You can all march enthusiastically to the same beat.  That’s huge.
  • FLEXIBILITY — Flexibility is a must in a small team, which is a huge positive.  You don’t have people who must be extremely specialized in one core skill as you have to have in a large team.  And because of that, you can really move the team in a new direction if that’s where the market takes you.  Larger teams are much more locked into a path that is hard to detour from.
  • PASSION — In a small team, you can pick people who are passionate about the direction your team is headed.
  • PERSONAL GROWTH — I love the ability of people to grow in a small team.  Allowing people to work on many different things in order to help the team achieve its goals is extremely empowering and allows people to really grow.
  • THE BEST PLAYERS — Small teams allow you to be very selective when picking new members.  When you’re larger and/or growing from a small team to a large one, it becomes much more difficult to be as selective as you’d want to be.  It’s possible, and I think Engauge does an amazing job with having a large agency and also bringing in amazing talent (kudos to @churchchat as I think he’s a genius in that area).  But its much easier with a small team.
  • PRIDE AND CELEBRATION — A small team has an easier time celebrating small victories.  I remember the first time we landed a “big name” client at Spunlogic.  It was the greatest thing ever.  We probably couldn’t stop smiling for days.  When you’re 75 people it’s much harder to stop and celebrate those kind of victories.
  • BEING CLOSE TO EACH OTHER — It’s amazing how important it is to be close to each other when working on a team.  That’s why I don’t sit in an office any more.

What else?

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  • http://www.BrightWaveMarketing.com Simms Jenkins

    + 1

  • http://www.drewhawkins.org Drew Hawkins

    One thing I like about smaller groups is the accountability factor. There’s not really any room for slacking off because with fewer people, there’s not as many places to spread out work. Everybody is crucial.

  • Tony Kinard

    I remember the early days of Spunlogic when we were a small team of passionate go-getters that didn’t know the meaning of “can’t”. We were a force to be reckoned with. The energy of a small team of like-minded, tightly knit, bright people with shared goals is an awesome thing. The tech industry was built and accelerated on the innovative ideas and efforts of small teams. There’s nothing better than to be a part of a “skunkworks” team!

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Agreed, accountability is definitely one that should be added to the list. Small teams = massive amounts of accountability.

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