Why Smaller is Better: Two heads are not always better than one!

October 23rd, 2007

Many organizations think that the more employees, the more branches, the more contracts, the more clients… the better.  But my experience working with groups of people tells me that when a group of people working together grows beyond a critical point, say 4 people, efficiencies between that group start to go down.  We spend more time in meetings talking about what needs to be done, hashing out ideas, arguing one way vs. another, that there isn’t enough time to get anything done.

When I worked for a large pharmaceutical company, I started out having several small accounts.  I worked these accounts on my own- because they were small it was considered feasible that one person could handle 3 accounts on their own.  It was great- I designed my sales presentations in the way I thought best matched my buyer’s learning style, controlled all the data that went into the presentations, and managed my time so that I never was at the office before 10 or after 5, and I had huge success with my buyers.  So what comes after success?  The corporatizing of success!  This means I was moved onto a large national account with a team of 6 others.  It meant they took the best thinkers in our department- thought leaders, industrious workers, creative problem solvers, and shoved us all into a room together and expected us to make a lot of money for the company.  Well productivity dropped, efficiency dropped, creativity dropped.  Amount of time in meetings soared.  Amount of times I checked my watch or made lists of how many times someone said “um” in a meeting went up.  My feeling of listlessness, productive-lessness, and misery went way up.  So the moral of the story? 

Well, I learned that I work better in a small group, where each person has a designated role and function.  But also, I learned that most of us work better that way.  Too many people working on a project together becomes a competition to have the winning idea, instead of to find the winning idea.  It becomes a visibility game for who is noticed by the higher ups in the company, getting face time, making speeches and using flashy lingo.  It is a situation that just doesn’t bring out the best in people.


            What does bring out the best in people then?  Well, for one thing, every meeting must be facilitated with care and intention.  There must be process- a well planned agenda, defined goals and outcomes, and for god’s sake- time limits for each topic!  When creating the agenda the facilitator must pre-decide what outcomes are reasonable in this time limit, and what types of outcomes would be better handled out of the meeting by a smaller group of people assigned as an action item.  Outside facilitators are great because they can just watch process and play a neutral role, but since it’s not always feasible to have an outside person present, every person on a team should have some basic facilitation skills and some process tools. 


            Process tools are some ways a person can run a brainstorming session, a vision building session, getting consensus on an action steps, hearing everyone’s voice in the room, allowing everyone an equal chance to share and talk… when these things aren’t provided for we end up with the monkey sessions of people falling over each other to talk, no one listening, someone going on and on and on about something irrelevant, half the group unsure of what’s irrelevant and what’s not… I am relieved to be able to report that all of this can be addressed with a little careful intention to facilitation.  A well facilitated meeting makes all the difference between your energy when you walk out of a meeting- do you feel exhausted and worn out, or inspired, energized, and full of ideas.  More importantly, if it is your company, or your business, how do you want your employees to leave a meeting?  Which way do you think would result in better results for the company?

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