Evaluate the performance of a team can be done in different ways. One of my favorites is to observe the functioning of the team through the prism of the most recognized theories on the subject.
As stated by Katzenbach and Smith (2005) “a team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable”.
What I like with this definition, is that it gives a guide to assess the actual performance of a team by asking few questions and set up action plan if necessary or when the answer is not satisfactory.
In order to ask the right questions, let’s cut this definition into several parts:
1. ‘a team is a small number of people’
2. ‘with complementary skills’
3. ‘who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals and approach’
4. ‘for which they hold themselves mutually accountable’
Therefore, my first question would be: What is the right number of people in the team?
The answer to this question is not always obvious as there are few, if any proven statistics of the most effective number of people in a team. According to different authors and theories, the ideal number of subordinates per supervisor spans from 6, up to 15 to 20 direct reports. In some literature (Gladwell, 2000), we can also find Dunbar’s “magic number” of 150 as the maximum group size to enable its members to keep social closeness…
Actually, the right number depends on multiple variables such as the nature of the job, the culture of the organization, the competences and motivation of the employees and managers, the requirements of the jobs, etc.
My suggestion is to assess the situation (what is the right number of people) in the light of Mintzerg’s (2009) statement: “The manager has to help bring out the best in other people; so that they can know better, decide better, and act better.”
I think this statement represents an appropriate definition of the modern role of a manager. Therefore, to abide to this definition, the manager should set up an effective interaction system (in terms of quantity and quality) with his/her direct reports.
So, the question would be: “in order to help bringing out the best in other people, how many time and energy should the manager devote in interacting with his/her direct reports?”
And, of course this question needs to be followed by “According to the time and energy already allocated to the other responsibilities of my role, do I have enough time and energy to really help bringing out the best in other people?”
Whilst the answer to these questions provides the evaluation from the manager viewpoint, it could be worth seeking for the team members evaluation of the manager’s ability to effectively bring out the best in them by adapting his/her style and actions to some specificities.
To me, there are two perspectives to take into account in order to evaluate the needs and expectations of the team members: The CONTEXT and the PERSONALITIES of the team members.
CONTEXT relates to the particular and current situation of the group.
Many authors have built leadership theories that present the need for a leader to adapt their actions and style to the situation encountered. Among the best known is Fiedler’s Contingency (1967), to whom, the group’s performance is contingent upon the appropriate matching of leadership style and the degree of favourableness of the group situation for the leader. Likewise, Hersey & Blanchard’s (1969) Life Cycle Model is based on the ‘readiness’ level of the people the leader is attempting to influence. Readiness is defined as the extent to which the followers have the ability and willingness to accomplish a given task.
Again, context should be seen through the prism of the dichotomy between group work and group process.
According to Bion (1952), two groups are present in every group: the work group and the basic assumption group. The work group has to do with what the group is intended to do (the task) while the basic assumption group describes the tacit underlying assumptions on which the behavior of the group is based. He identified three version of this process: Dependency, Fight-Flight and Pairing. Each of these basic assumptions interferes with the group task.
In this respect, I believe that group leadership is related to task management as well as the management of group process and that seeking for the right number of people in the team, should take into account the ability of the leader to handle the quantity and quality of the interactions with each of the group members related to both group work and process.
Addressing the topic of ‘quantity and quality of the interactions with each of the team members’ leads to have a look at the second perspective, the PERSONALITIES of the people in the team.
According to the Process Communication Model (Kahler, 1979), different people mean different expectations, needs and preferences in the way they are managed.
Two important statements clearly define the model:
– For communication, the way of saying something is of as much or sometimes of more importance than what is said. The Process is at least as important as the Content
– Each one of us develops, during our history, more or less the characteristics of each of the 6 types of personality, in an order and measure that is unique to us.
The six PCM personality types are (in a random order) Rebel, Workaholic, Promoter, Harmonizer (Reactor in the US), Dreamer and Persister. The following descriptions of the six personality types are those of “pure” types, thus, they may be seen as caricatures but remember that 1) we developed the characteristics of the 6 personality types, 2) the intensity of every base personality type is modified by the order of the above floors, the culture, etc.
When observing Kahler’s model as a structure, it is usually described as a 6-floor condominium, in which each floor represents a different personality type. Within this structure, a person’s base personality (their ‘natural’ or ‘original’ personality type) is on the ground floor (the easiest and most accessible). Their weakest and least accessible personality type would therefore be on the sixth floor, that is, furthest away. The first and second floors of the structure represent the main characteristics that are most visible in a person. The first level or Base is established at the beginning of the life, the other floors are developed during childhood and in an order that will not change later in life.
Process Communication Model offers a wide range of concepts that help identify the right interaction mode according to the different personality types. Among those concepts, the one that seems the most relevant to evaluate the needs and expectation of the team members regarding the first question (what is the right number of people in the team?) is the ‘preferred management style’. The four styles used by PCM are the Democratic, Autocratic, Benevolent and Laissez-faire. Each of these styles fit more or less to different people and situation. From a personality type perspective, the style preference depends mainly on the Base type of the person.
The model suggests that the Democratic style fits with either Workaholic or Persister base personality type. In that case, people want to be asked for their thoughts and opinions and involved in the decision making process. Those two types represent 35% of the population in North America.
The Autocratic management style is relevant for Dreamer and Promoter base people. Team members with those two types as base, expect to get precise directives about what needs to be done, for when and even how. Dreamer and Promoter base are 15% of the overall population.
People with Harmonizer as base (who represent 30% of the population), appreciate the Benevolent style that focuses on enabling them to express their feelings. They appreciate to be taking care of.
Rebel base people like the Laissez-faire management style that allow them to make good use of their natural talent for creativity. Rebels represent 20% of the population.
Thus, if there more than one person in the team, there are chances that there will be people with different expectation according to their personality types. Consequently, the manager will have to adapt his/her actions and style to the variety of needs and expectations. “For effective (regulatory) control, a control system needs to have at least as many states as the controlled system has. Otherwise, any control will be restrictive” (Glanville, 2004).
So, the answer to the question “What is the right number of people in my team?” depends on the expectations of the members AND the ability of the manager to answer them appropriately.
After the resignation of two senior managers in one of the locations of a multinational industry, decision was made not to immediately replace them. The people left without direct manager, were placed under the supervision of the director. This one was then, in charge of managing a greater number of people, and especially, employees with different personality type than his own and the types he was used to deal with.
Conducting a survey about organizational culture including an evaluation of the priorities for change by interviewing the employees, we discovered that one of the most urgent action to implement would be to have more direct contact with managers. Surprisingly enough, this comment did not come only from the direct reports of the two managers who resigned. ‘Managerial presence’ came first in people expectations, followed by ‘being involved in decision making’, ‘getting clear directives’ and ‘getting recognition for my work’.
The employees actually missed the “people orientation” of the two managers, i.e. their genuine interest for people and their work that was well known by each of the 200 people in the location.
In other words, the employees missed the actions and behaviors related to Benevolent as well as Democratic and Autocratic management style.
The director was just unable to devote the time needed to be present – or to help bring out the best in others – for such a great number of people.
We strongly recommended to hire, not only two new senior manager to decrease the number of direct reports of the director, but also, to take care of recruiting managers with enough resources in the personality types related to Benevolent style, as that characteristic is not so widely represented in managers personality profiles.
From this case example perspective, it can be said that defining the right number of people for a team is common sense. Whatever has to be achieved, the composition of the team flows from a lot of different and often contradictory perspectives, such as finance, nature of the job, capacities of the manager, etc.
However, assessing the variety of needs and expectations of the team members could be of great importance, not only to better define the right number, but also to leverage motivation by teaching the team how to better take into account those various needs and expectations.
– Bion, W.R. (1952). Experiences in Groups and Other Papers. pp. 141-165. London: Tavistock Routledge.
– Fiedler, F.E., (1967) A theory of leadership effectiveness. In Bass and Stogdill’s handbook of leadership: theory, research, and managerial applications: Fiedler’s Contingency Model of Leadership. 3d ed. pp. 494-510. New York: The Free Press
– Gladwell, M. (2000). The Tipping Point – How Little Things Make a Big Difference. Little, Brown and Company. pp. 177–181, 185–186.
– Glanville, R. (2004) The Well-Being of Systems, keynote presented at the American Society for Cybernetics, Toronto.
– Kahler, T. (1979) Managing with the Process Communication Model. “Power Point presentation” presented at the Process Communication world congress. Taibi Kahler Associates, Inc. Hot Spring, AR. July 2007
– Katzenbach, J. R. Smith, K. S. (2005, July-August), The Discipline of Teams. Harvard Business Review, pp. 1-11
– Mintzberg, H. (2009), Managing, San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc., p. 12