Alok has an interesting question. An ‘average’ person is more likely to perform better in a small team.

He nails it right with this observation – ‘a person’s work is easily noticeable in small teams’. Small fact, bigger ramifications. And worth sparing a thought.

I think the surprising thing about humans is that when time comes, most of us who are otherwise average can rise to be a ‘hero’. Think school days, college days, office days. Its likely that the time when you rose to the occasion and performed beyond your normal capabilities was a time when you believed in the greater cause and your work would have made a critical difference to that goal.

This ‘criticality of ones contribution’ is more evident in smaller teams. Throw two people down a well and each will do his best to climb out. There is no other way. They cannot look to others or blame others for not finding a way out simply because there are no ‘others’ – its only two of them. And each person’s work contributes in a significant way.
But throw fifty people and each of them will wait for someone else to come up with a solution.

Try the reverse. Throw 50 people down a well. Now the more resourceful among them will try to find a way out. The lesser ones would talk among themself and throw up an idea at random to these resourceful ‘leaders’. And there will be a few lazy ducks who will find their best use of time in cracking jokes and talking about the latest Bollywood scandal while the ‘leaders’ come up with a solution. Take 2 of these lazy ducks and throw them in another well. What do you think will happen? Jokes and scandals? Or, ‘Man, we need to find a way out’.

Maybe as Tom Peters says, it arises from man’s duality to be a part of something bigger and to stand out at the same time‘. A smaller team allows this psychological contradiction in human beings to be satisfied better, hence the avg person puts in better efforts. And hence (statistically) the performance of an ‘average’ person is better in smaller teams.

Please note – we are not talking about results. Maybe eventually ‘the fifty ppl’ will climb out and ‘the two ppl’ won’t – but we are really talking about motivation for putting in your efforts, not the actual outcome. Two people thrown in a well will put in all their worth to climb out. And the fastest rower in a 100 man boat race will think, ‘What difference can I make alone when there are 99 others to slow me down!’

How often have you come across star performers suffocated and feeling frustated in a bigger team, and how often have you seen average people performing better when put in smaller teams. Any thoughts?