For Impact


Brooks’s Law

Team | | Nick Fellers

Today’s nugget is an excerpt from Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World (p. 127-128) by General Stanley McChrystal.

The late J. Richard Hackman, a Harvard sociology professor, found that teams are much trickier to build and maintain than we like to think. The issue is not that teams never work, but that team dynamics are powerful but delicate, and expansion is a surefire way to break them. “[It’s a] fallacy that bigger teams are better than smaller ones because they have more resources to draw on,” he explains. “As a team gets bigger, the number of links that need to be managed among members goes up at an accelerating, almost exponential rate.”

In his handbook Leading Teams, Hackman reminds us of “Brooks’s Law”: the adage that adding staff to speed up a behind-schedule project “has no better chance of working… than would a scheme to produce a baby quickly by assigning nine women to be pregnant for one month each… adding manpower to a late project makes it later.”

Reflect on this excerpt and think about the implications for your team(s).

On a large, late, or urgent project, the tendency is to add more people. We must first put extra resources into clear planning and then be prepared to commit resources (e.g., time and communication) to building/managing the exponential links a ‘team’ requires.