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Daily Nuggets: A For Impact Blog

On team size, culture, and performance – Brook’s Law

The size of a team is one of our first considerations when trying to build a fundraising campaign team, or a sales team within an organization.

Complexity is non-linear in that 1+1 team members is not 2x as challenging as coaching one person; it’s at least 2.5x more challenging. You have to build the skills of two individuals, as well as consider the interpersonal linkages between the two individuals.

For this reason, we try to identify the smallest possible team for a project, or a function.

Here is an excerpt from Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal with a good explanation and an introduction to Brook’s Law, which we often cite when building, changing, or leading teams.

Thousands of fledgling businesses have sunk because of an inability to scale their teamwork. Joel Peterson, a professor at the Stanford School of Business, says the rigidity that sets in with scale is one of the main causes of start-up failure. And 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 “Brook’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 software project makes it later.”

McChrystal, General Stanley. Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World (pp. 127-128). Penguin Publishing Group.