The 2-Pizza Rule Explains Why Smaller Teams At Work Are More Effective

Posted by in Entrepreneurship
June 20, 2017

Ideally, how many people could two pizzas feed? Five-six?

Exactly. If only about six people would enjoy a tasty feast of cheese drooping thin crust bread topped with pepperoni and sausages, then probably six is the number of people who should be there in a productive team.

Now, this is not my opinion, I merely think this is a rather practical ‘rule’. It is the sort of rule one might expect from a west-coast technology company that likes to do things differently like Amazon. The two pizza rule is the brainchild of Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, who claims that no meeting, no matter how important, should ever involve more people than can be fed by two pizzas. But hands down, the sheer pace at which Amazon can generate and unveil a wide range of developments is down to the sheer volume of workable, innovative ideas that are flowing from its staff. This testifies to the practice.

Now, why do I believe in it?

I wouldn’t say that I believe that communication is a hindrance to planning. But let me give a perspective.

Say, you host a group discussion arguing against the new reforms being brought about in Uttar Pradesh. People will either be in favour of the changes or not. There can be no in between. Now, to prove either stance, points will be made, and there will come a time when there won’t be any arguments left. You will reach a point of exhaustion, after which the arguments will be repeated.

Similarly, in a team meeting, having too many people leads to unnecessary arguments and consensus. Moreover, many of the strategic points that are to be discussed get repeated and usually passed on with a nod. Fresh points and newer and better perspectives reach a point of exhaustion, which more often than not, decreases the productivity – unless you have an extremely efficient team with no communication gap.

What do I mean by communication gap?

It is imperative for an inspirational team leader to maintain healthy relationships in his or her team. With the increasing number of relations to look after, the task gets onerous. On the other hand, the team size itself is not the cause of strenuous relationships, but it gets difficult to communicate information uniformly among every member.

Ever played Chinese Whispers?

formPsychologist J. Richard Hackman, from Harvard University, argues that communication grows worse as the team size grows. And why not? The number of relations in the group increases. There is a simple mathematical formula to determine the number of relations in the team.

If N is the total number of people in the team, then the number of relational links in the team is N(N-1)/2.

Say you have a two pizza team size, consisting of 6 members. That will give you 15 relations. Add one more member and the number of relations rises to 21. Double the initial team and the total number of relations is 66. Therefore, the number of relations increase in a non-linear progression.

Graph showing the increase of relations with an increase in the number of team members.

Coming back to the whole point of having smaller team sizes, it is in contradiction to the belief that human resource is the best resource. At the same time, one must also not forget the famous saying, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” People will lose the feeling of closeness if you put them in a large team. Members will start depending on each other, there will be a lack of innovation and people will tend to get lackadaisical.

Developing a close-knit connection with peers also helps in retaining membership and increases overall team morale. This reaps benefits in the long run in terms of employee retention rates and job satisfaction.

Personally, I find it easier to work with people who I know well. I can be more open in sharing ideas and giving inputs. Management and communication come easy, and the scope for communication gap lessens. It helps me build valuable network groups.

Let me know what you feel about this in the comment section.

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