“I’ve searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of committees.”
— Gilbert K. Chesterton
How come we don’t have statues of groups of people rather than individuals? And if we do, why don’t we have more?
Is it just because we’ve got an easier time remembering individuals rather than groups of people? Is it because individuals do a better job going it alone? Or do we just respect the rebels for some reason?
The above quote by Chesterton tickled my curiosity. Also, it’s my most ticklish spot.
I set out to understand it, and what I came across was pretty darn interesting.
When I looked at the research of individuals versus groups it became clear that the kind of work people choose to do dictate whether their work will benefit from riding solo or getting their group on.
Here’s a really simplified version of it:
If the work needs to get done quickly then the individual performs best. However, the quality will naturally suffer since less time is dedicated to noticing errors or coming up with better solutions.
Even if you’re working on something with others it’s better to work on different parts of the whole rather than working together on one aspect of it.
It seems really obvious now, but often we think that the more people we assign on the same task the faster it’ll go.
However, this causes the productivity of each individual in the group to go down. A phenomenon known as “social loafing”.
Below are Maximilien Ringelmann’s results indicating the number of workers (NoW), their total performance (TP), and the performance per worker (PPW):
NoW: 1 TP: 1.00 PPW: 1.00
NoW: 2 TP: 1.86 PPW: 0.93
NoW: 3 TP: 2.55 PPW: 0.85
NoW: 4 TP: 3.08 PPW: 0.77
NoW: 5 TP: 3.50 PPW: 0.70
NoW: 6 TP: 3.78 PPW: 0.63
NoW: 7 TP: 3.92 PPW: 0.56
NoW: 8 TP: 3.92 PPW: 0.49
Some of us, especially those in leadership positions, might after looking at those numbers feel like “What the fuck? That’s insane!”
Well, look at it as a trade-off. People will quickly become unhappy if they feel isolated in their work place also they’ll become less motivated if you don’t give them something to strive towards.
Too much of either and you’ll have a mutiny on your hands.
If you want to create a coordinated group make sure to have the group as small as possible. No smaller than that.
We’ll get into group sizes further on.
Accuracy (Single task)
Having many individuals working on a the same task seperately will show who the most competent person is. As soon as you can suss out who it is, assign that person to the task.
Accuracy (Multiple tasks)
Noone can be great at everything. Have a varied group of people working on different tasks in parallel.
This is one place where the committee has a distinct advantage.
The potential (and that word is key) of gathering people with varied influences, experiences, information, ideas, and points of view is amazing.
Having a larger group also helps in recognizing great ideas as well as terrible ideas.
Also, the burden of remembering the good ideas and correcting the terrible ones is shared which makes it more likely to occur.
No matter what anybody says, size does matter.
Naturally the exact size depends on the task at hand, but studies have shown that people find a group of 4 or less too small, while 6 or more is too big.
Another important thing to remember is to have groups with odd numbers.
If they need to vote and make a decision there is always going to be a tie-breaking vote.
In other words 5 seems like a magic number. However, take that only as a guiding principle, not as a law of nature.
What I came to understand is that, sure, the easier the story the more compelling it is. But it wasn’t always true.
In very few cases the heroes we have statues of are symbols, and did not work in a vacuum.
Also, we want to be the heroes of our own story.
There’s very little glamour in being part of a team whereas being the singular inventor of the next big thing is a far sexier pursuit.
Here’s where we need to get really honest with ourselves though. None of us will ever accomplish much of anything without working with or being influenced by others.
While Joseph Campbell did a great job deconstructing the hero’s journey for us, maybe we should be turning our focus on all the people involved in its creation.
If you and your team did something amazing in the world that’d warrant a statue made of you, who would be on your team? What would the plate say?
Have a kick-ass ₢eative day!