Does Size Matter . . . In Workgroup Effectiveness?

Topic(s): teams

Topic: Teams
Publication:  Small Group Research
Article: Group size, group development, and group productivity.
Author: S.A. Wheelan
Featured by:  Lit Digger

When it comes to workgroup teams, YES! You have already probably noticed that working in larger groups often means less cohesiveness and less participation from group members, and often the opportunity for more free-riding.  But have you ever wondered if group size matters?

A recent article by Susan Wheelan dove into this research question by empirically examining group productivity and developmental processes of 329 work groups of various sizes. A notable contribution of this study was that it looked at groups that had been together for a minimum of a 6-month period, which was different from most previous studies involving short-term, laboratory experiments.

Wheelan found that, indeed, group size DOES matter when it comes to group productivity and development, such that smaller groups (ballpark 3-6 people) are most ideal. That’s right: “strength in numbers” does NOT apply here. So, what can smaller groups do that larger groups can’t?

For one thing, Wheelan reports that smaller groups are more likely to pass through all four stages of group development. So what does group development look like? We can think of this in the following stages:

1) Group members depend on their assigned leader, have not yet established group goals, and are generally agreeable and avoidant of conflict

2) Group members discuss and disagree on group procedures and goals, so conflict occurs. (You can imagine that the models in the above picture are stuck in Stage 2)

3) Trust and cooperation builds between members, conformity occurs

4) Issues are resolved and productivity is the group’s main focus (the goal is to get to this stage!)

Smaller groups are more likely to reach the fourth stage of development, and highly developed groups are more likely to be productive . . . so keep your numbers small and realize that a little conflict early on is healthy, fight it out, and mature away! The take-away here is to choose the size of your group wisely, very wisely, if you are serious about getting stuff done.

Wheelan, S.A. (2009). Group size, group development, and group productivity. Small Group Research, 40(2), 247-262.