Virtual Teams

The Maths of Multiple Team Membership

cartoon,cooperationMultiple team membership is becoming more and more common. Our own remote and virtual team survey of over 4,000 people tells us that, on average, managerial and professional people are now part of five virtual teams. If these really are interdependent “teams” then this implies a very high level of interconnection. For an average team size of around eight, there are 28 possible interconnections that need to be managed (assuming everyone is connected to everyone else). The formula is ((n x (n-1))/2. If all five of our teams are that connected then we need to manage 140 interconnections.

If we had to put time into managing these interconnections every week we would have an average of about 16 minutes to spend on each one, assuming we did no other work at all. If we are unable to put that amount of effort into sustaining a relationship and connection, then it’s unlikely that we are really working with that individual as a member of a true team.

Luckily, most work isn’t really teamwork; a lot of the work of virtual teams is actually conducted by groups rather than teams and is delivered asynchronously. A group is a hub and spoke organization operating largely through one-to-one contacts and doesn’t require a lot of synchronous cooperation and interconnected collaboration. A group of eight people, to be managed, requires only seven connections, one person in the center with a single connection to each of the others. The person in the center is still very connected, but life is much more simple for the group members.

The number of interconnections in a true, what we call “spaghetti team”, grows very fast. This is probably why post research shows the ideal size for a truly interconnected team to be about 4 to 6 people. If you create a graph of the number of interconnections, once you go beyond this level, the number starts to climb steeply. This effect is compounded when we are working together through technology, if you have 12 people on a conference call you can’t really have an interactive discussion, it tends to become a series of monologues.

So sometimes the constraints to ways of working and collaboration structures are nothing more than simple maths!

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