Team dynamics and encouragement

When you add people to a project, the total productivity of the team as a whole may go up, but the productivity per person usually goes down. Someone suggested that as a rule of thumb, a company needs to triple its number of employees to double its productivity. Fred Brooks summarized this saying

“Many hands make light work” — Often
But many hands make more work — Always

I’ve seen this over and over. But I think I’ve found an exception. When work is overwhelming, a lot of time is absorbed by discouragement and indecision. In that case, new people can make a big improvement. They not only get work done, but they can make others feel more like working.

Flood cleanup is like that, and that’s what motivated this note. Someone new coming by to help energizes everyone else. And with more people, you see progress sooner and make more progress, in a sort of positive feedback loop.

This is all in the context of fairly small teams. There must be a point where adding more people decreases productivity per person or even total productivity. I’ve heard reports of a highly bureaucratic relief organization that makes things worse when they show up to “help.” The ideal team size is somewhere between a couple discouraged individuals and a bloated bureaucracy.

Related post: Optimal team size

2 thoughts on “Team dynamics and encouragement

  1. The type of work to be done might play a factor, too. If it’s easy for new people to figure out or be told what needs to be done, then adding people is a big plus. If you need people to tell the new people what to do all the time, then you see the bureaucracy starting to form.

    I would gyess that task assignment in cleaning up debris is somewhat straightforward.

  2. David W Locke

    More people cause more management. Is management more work? No, but we do much to confuse labor and management.

Comments are closed.