Meredith Belbin

Size Does Matter

by Belbin, 09 Feb 2015

Unsurprisingly, we are frequently asked a myriad of questions in relation to teams. Questions about how to manage team communication, team dynamics, over-running and pointless meetings, disengaged team members, lack of team innovation…

Regardless of the question, the first thing we ask is – ‘How many people are in the team?’ People tend to look at us quizzically, not quite understanding why this matters, and reply ’18, 25, 14, 32…’ or ‘Depends who’s in’.

One of the fundamentals about teams (that is largely ignored by most articles I have read) is that size matters. Teams should be limited in size as they should only contain people that have been actively selected for what they can contribute to the team at a given time. And people in the team should change – teams should be fluid and reactive, changing to ensure they achieve whatever it is they set out to do.

Meredith Belbin’s ideal team size is 4.

Why 4? Because everyone will have equal (ish) input, airtime, responsibility, actions. There shouldn’t be any duplication of roles (functional or team) and decision making will be less drawn out. An even number means that agreement has to be reached – no one person has the casting vote. Group-think is less likely to happen. People are more likely to challenge, discuss problems openly, and get to solutions.

Meredith’s view of the European Union sums this up perfectly:

“When effective decision-making is required, three selected teams of four are better than one group of twelve. The only proviso is that these teams work concurrently and shortly afterwards share their outputs so that decisions are not unduly delayed. How can one deal with 25 nations within a single organisation? Not by resorting to one huge meeting. On the other hand, small teams deliberating separately can quickly reach significant decisions.”

In a nutshell, the following number of Team members is likely to lead to:

Four “We’re well-balanced in our team and good at achieving agreement.”

Five “One of us tends to be the odd one out.”

Six “It takes longer to reach agreement, but we get there in the end.”

Seven “Rather too many random contributions float about.”

Eight “People speak freely but no one listens.”

Nine “We could do with someone taking control.”

Ten “We now have a leader, but their ideas are the only ones with a chance of acceptance.

In other words – Size DOES Matter!

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