Teams work best — whether in the primary care office, the operating room, or the C-suite and board room — when members share information effectively. This becomes more difficult as team size grows. This graph illustrates the problem, showing that the number of links among team members rises exponentially. Specifically, the number of links increases according to this formula: (n^2 – n)/2. When a team includes two members, there is just one link between them. With six members, there are 15 links. With 10, there are 45 links — likely too many for effective teaming. (This generic phenomenon, widely discussed among team scholars, was described by J. Richard Hackman in Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances.)
When you need to include many people, consider alternative structures, such as organizing a core team of no more than six members, with peripheral members who engage as needed.
This blog post originally appeared in NEJM Catalyst on November 25, 2015.