What is the optimum size for an agile team?
Most approaches to agile product development propose a small team size in order to achieve ‘hyper-productivity’. Actually it takes much more than that, but that’s the topic for another blog post.
The Scrum Alliance suggests here that it is 7 plus or minus 2. Scrum.org suggests in their Scrum Guide that the figure is between 6 and 9. James shore in his book The Art of Agile Development says it can even be as many as 20.
So why do we advocate small team sizes?
Answer: Social Loafing
Social loafing is the name given to the phenomenon where individuals in large groups demonstrate a diminished contribution.
First posited by Max Ringelmann by conducting experiments with groups pulling ropes, he found that individuals were putting more effort into the rope pull than groups of men. Later work conducted by Bibb Lateré that furthered the work to demonstrate an increased effort by members of smaller groups over larger ones.
Essentially the larger the group the less likely it is that each individual will be held accountable for their visible contribution, they can hide. Many manager’s default position for less productive individuals in teams is ‘laziness’. This is rarely true.
Social Loafing causes
The anonymity that larger groups provide is a perfect form of camouflage that is exploited both consciously and subconsciously. The larger the group the more the ‘blame’ can be spread around so the contribution decreases due to safety in numbers.
The expectation that others are probably doing just enough to avoid being labelled as not pulling their weight. If they’re doing it then I’d end up doing most of the work.
No social norms
Not having a clear set of standards for behavior and contribution to the team provides a social structure without rules or accountability from the peer group.
I witnessed this phenomenon recently where a very large team (25) struggling to run in 1 week sprints (imagine the overhead!). After a short while a few team members mentally checked out and were less productive as a result of being able to hide in plain sight and the social complexity of the group not providing an adequate structure or set of boundaries that members would adhere to.
Keep your teams small, maintain peer-to-peer accountability, foster a sense of community and social responsibility to the group.