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Smaller Teams, Less Communication Equals Better Productivity

I don't work in your office, but I bet that I can describe how a typical project gets accomplished. Not only are the SMEs -- the subject matter experts -- assigned to the operation, but so are partners from across the company. These are people that have little direct impact on the outcome, but are included in the spirit of collaboration and cooperation. The end result: You spend half your time just communicating, and the project inevitably falls behind schedule.

What's the right way to manage a project like that? I've got some logical, yet nontraditional advice for how to organize our team.

In the current issue of Inc, Joel Spolsky contends that organizationally, we have a tendency to over communicate. Specifically, by adding nonessential participants to projects, meetings and e-mail conversations, we dramatically slow down the overall process.

Worse, there's a tendency to throw people at problems -- if a project is running late, we add extra "resources" to it -- you know, project management speak for people. And while Microsoft Project will eagerly reduce the time a project takes in proportion to every human being you add, the reality is that the resulting web of communication is a huge tax that makes the most productive members of a project less efficient, and can further delay the project.

My favorite part of the article shows mathematically how this web of communication can get out of hand very quickly: Iif you have n people on your team, there are (n2-n)/2 connections among them. This chart demonstrates how this can suck the life out of your project:

People Connections

1 0

2 1

3 3

4 6

5 10

6 15

7 21

8 28

9 36

10 45

What does that mean? It definitely suggests that smaller, sleeker teams work more efficiently, and you should really think hard about the explicit value of each person you throw on the CC line of any e-mail.