Natural groups

Last week I visited an aquarium and was lucky enough to have an expert guide talk to us about the shark tank. There are 5 blacktips in the tank and our guide explained how that group would not accept any more. If another shark were to be introduced then one would be killed. Interestingly, the loser would not necessarily be the one introduced. It would be the weakest.

What’s the optimum number of people in a team? There’s been a fair bit of discussion about optimum group size. There’s also been plenty of analysis around  group roles.

I’ve wondered why some groups I’ve worked in work well and others less so. In one instance I noticed a lot of tension and dysfunction in a large group.  By chance, people began to leave the group and what I noticed was that the quality of communication, ideas generation, decision making and the general temperature / positivity improved as the group became smaller.

What I also noticed, in the larger group, was a severe friction with some individuals who normally work extremely well in different (smaller) groups.

In another group, I noticed that the energy was patchy as people from all the correct project roles were gathered in the same place at the same time.

My sense is that successful working in groups depends upon both size and group roles. There’s a difference, I think, between project roles and group roles. The first is functional, the second is social. Here’s an example… for my project I may need a project manager, designer, operations manager, health & safety officer, accountant, lawyer, technical consultant, executive director etc. These are functional. The problem is that individuals in this group are unlikely to know what their group role is and could easily end up undermining those critical social attributes.

So as part of project planning, once you’ve assembled your functional experts, perhaps it’s worth discussing:

(1) appropriate meeting sizes; and

(2) the need for group roles

for more natural groups.