20 people cannot be a team.
I was watching the news in the UK about the new Conservative Government’s Cabinet “team”. This consists of more than 20 people regularly gathering around an old fashioned boardroom table, with the important people of course, close to the middle.
Anyone who has attended a meeting or conference call of 20 people knows that this is not really teamwork, it becomes a series of monologues or discussion of topics of limited interest to most others around the table. They are enormously wasteful, yet still we refer to these as teams.
A team is a small, tightly interdependent collection of people working on a collaborative goal. Think 3-6 people ideally. If you were really going to have a tightly interdependent team of 20 people you would create 190 different potential interconnections to be managed. If everyone needed to talk and be heard on each topic, every meeting would be interminable.
In reality these are what we call “star groups”, not teams they are about coordinating the efforts of distinctly different departments – not true collaboration.
For a lot of “broadcast” topics which are largely about information giving and/or knowledge sharing; a physical meeting is a wasteful way to get things done, technology gives us many ways to broadcast or make information available.
Face to face meetings should be small and focused around collaborative goals that cannot be done individually.
Here is a tip, at your next meeting, make a list of all the agenda items on the vertical axis of a table and the names of participants on the horizontal. Each time someone talks make a mark in the relevant box. At the end of the meeting look at the patterns – you will find several topics where only a small number of people contribute – these topics should probably be discussed by a sub-team as they are not of interest to most.
You will also find that there are some individuals who rarely or never contribute, you should consider whether there is something that is inhibiting them from making necessary inputs or, if they don’t have any, they should probably not be at the meeting.
Alternatively if you enjoy long, boring and irrelevant meetings then find 19 people and call a meeting.