Build the team

Designing The Team

Errors made by managers while setting goals, characteristics of a good team, Team size, Overstaff groups, and teams.

“It is more important to have a well-designed team than a team with a good leader.”

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

The launch of in 2013 was a failure as it nearly ended the Affordable Care Act. The website was poorly designed and only 6 people were able to use to sign up for health insurance. This pushed the Obama administration to create new initiatives — The Marketplace Lite Team (MPL), composed of an elite and diverse group of designers and developers from various tech companies. In Fall 2014, the rolled out with much greater efficiency from 76-page of forms to 16 and a fixed cost from $250M + $70M yearly maintenance to a lean $4M to build +$1M maintenance per year.

The MLP story team involves selecting the right goal, choosing the right people, and developing a process.

The three key elements that form the internal dynamics of a team are

  • Defining the goal (task)
  • Selecting team members (people), and
  • Managing the processes (how to work together)

Designing a team begins with a goal. Teams that have clear and elevating goals are best positioned to succeed. We discussed the importance of learning versus performance goals and introduced the difference between promotion- and prevention-focused goals. The selection of team members should not be left to chance. Indeed, two common errors that managers make are the overstaffing bias and homogeneity bias. The optimal team size is the fewest number of people required to accomplish a task. We focused on diversity and noted that in general, informational diversity is positively associated with team performance; whereas social category diversity improves group cohesion. We explored how to build a diverse team, beginning with valuing diversity. The process of managing a team on a day-to-day level begins with establishing norms. An effective leader can coach the team with regard to the information, motivation, and coordination.

What are two of the most common errors made by managers when setting goals for their team? Ideally, what are the best characteristics of team goals?

The First Error occurs when teams assume that everyone knows why they are there and the team is launch into actions without a thoughtful discussion of the purpose.

The Second Error occurs when there is excessive focus on how the team should function.

The best characteristics of team goals are: Clear and Simple and Specify ends but not means.

Why are larger groups less effective than smaller ones? Why do you think managers tend to overstaff groups and teams?

  • Leaders consistently struggle with the question of how many people to put on a team.
  • Generally, teams should be fewer than 10 members. It is wise to compose teams using the smallest number of people who can do the task.
  • According to the team scaling fallacy, as team size increases, people increasingly underestimate the number of labor hours required to complete projects.
  • Teams that are overgrown have a number of disadvantages.
  • Larger teams are less cohesive.
  • Members of large teams are less satisfied with team membership, participate less often in team activities, and are less likely to cooperate with one another.
  • People are more likely to behave in negative and socially unacceptable ways in larger teams, perhaps because team members feel more anonymous or are less self-aware.
  • Large groups may be more productive than small groups, but their marginal productivity declines as each person add less and less value.
  • A longitudinal study of 549 research groups found that the marginal productivity of larger groups declined as heterogeneity increased.
  • People in a large group are more self-conscious and concerned about projecting the right image, and so they avoid serious topics.
  • As group size increases, conformity increases in a negatively accelerating fashion, such that each additional person who agrees with the majority has less overall influence.
  • Another problem of large teams concerns the equality of participation. For example, in a team of two to three, one person may do more of the talking, but all may participate. As the size of the team grows, more people do less talking relative to others. Sometimes, a few members say and do nothing.
  • In contrast, there are advantages to smaller, even understaffed, teams. Members of understaffed teams work harder, engage in a wider variety of tasks, assume more responsibility for the team’s performance, and feel more involved in the team. For these reasons, the CEO of SAP decided to restructure his 20,000 employee development team into teams of 8 to 12 people.

If smaller teams are more advantageous, why are they relatively rare? The problem is that managers of teams appear to have an overstaffing bias. When team leaders are asked whether their teams could ever become too small or too large, 87 percent believe that understaffing is possible, but only 62 percent believe that overstaffing is possible.

The question of how to downsize is critical in teams. One study investigated three types of downsizing on-task focus:

  1. downsizing that eliminates the leader
  2. downsizing that maintains the hierarchy (leader)
  3. downsizing that integrates hierarchy.

Only the teams that lost their leader (and hierarchy) increased their effort on task-related behaviors.

Notes: Performance Vs Learning Goals

  • Some team members have a high-performance orientation and some have a high-learning orientation.
  • Performance orientation reflects the desire to gain favorable judgments of performance or avoid the negative judgment of competence.
  • Learning orientation reflects the desire to understand something novel or to increase competence in a task.

The answers and writing summarizations are based on the book name Making the Team: A Guide for Managers by Leigh L. Thompson Kellogg School of Management Northwestern University



Learner. Doer. Giver.

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