Working in Smaller Teams

I don’t know what the average size of a team is, but I know I’ve worked in all sizes in my career. I’ve had teams of 1-3, which is common in database work, but I’ve also been on a 20 person Ops team. I’ve been in 2 person development teams, 25 person teams, and everything in between. At Redgate, it seems most of our development teams are less than 10 people, but I’m sure we’ve exceeded that at times.

I do think smaller teams are better, and they are certainly easier to keep track of what everyone else is doing. Once a team becomes large, even with regular status reports or meetings, there is too much information to easily hold in one’s memory about tasks other than our own. Knowing what others are working on can be invaluable in coordinating and avoiding conflicts. This also ensures that the team can more easily ensure code is written in a similar fashion and knowledge is easily shared.

There is research that seems to indicate that smaller teams are better. This article talks about some of the reasons small teams seem to perform better. These all seem to intuitively make sense to me, and I’ve certainly experienced people behaving in these manners. In the second piece, there is advice on how to get teams to be more effective. The biggest advice seems to be a lot of what we do at Redgate. We empower teams, give them tools, and don’t manage them in traditional ways. We hold them accountable to get work done and meet goals, and we challenge them, but we want them to move forward, not work in a particular way.

Building a team is hard, and getting a team to perform at a high level is very hard. I do think that the internal talent and motivations of individuals can make a big difference, but I also think that management can bring out the best in people, or it can ensure you never get anywhere near the potential of team and encourage under-performance.

It constantly surprises me how often I find managers and their organizational culture built to control and not inspire employees to do their best. I think it’s a holdover of years of working a certain way, rather than supporting and encouraging each person supervising others to get the best from others. I hope this changes, but it’s certainly something I try to detect in interviews before I ever commit to a new position. I hate working for micromanagers and never want to do it again.

Steve Jones

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