The question of ideal work group size is not an idle one.
Group size affects a number of important individual and group-level outcomes. As a work group increases in size, the range of abilities, talents and aptitudes of members for task accomplishment increases – larger groups are probably smarter than smaller groups!
Larger groups have a higher propensity to produce even as they provide more hiding places for members who wish to avoid responsibility. You can duck responsibility more easily in large groups!
- Middle-sized groups (5 to 11 members) often make more accurate decisions than groups outside that size range.
- Small groups (2 to 5 members) are better able to achieve consensus than large groups, especially ones with three members.
- Larger groups (11 or more members) generate more ideas, but as size increases beyond 20 members the number of ideas relative to the number of members (mean actual performance per member) decreases.
- Groups of 4 to 5 members foster greater member satisfaction than middle-sized or large groups.
- Very small groups (2 to 3 members) may have members who are anxious about their visibility and performance
Group size and participation:
Bigger groups create more opportunity for face-to-face contact, but the duration and depth of the contact may decrease as the group enlarges. Thus, the time available for member participation decreases in larger groups.
Another effect of large groups is that they suppress insecure (shy) members who are afraid to speak up as the ‘public forum’ or audience grows larger. As groups get bigger, the talkative ones get everyone’s attention while the shier ones are more often overlooked.
Group size and internal conflict:
Bigger groups naturally produce more conflict about methods, goals and personalities: in a big group you can easily find someone to dislike! As it is easier to avoid responsibility in larger groups, members report less stress and more ways to relieve it in larger teams. Growing firms often let groups become too large, and these groups lose their intimacy.
Large, impersonal groups are quite likely to have rising turnover and absenteeism because they become less cohesive. Goals for large groups often become generalised and fuzzy.
Impact of Group Size on Performance:
Potential performance is the level of performance that could be achieved with all necessary resources and the ideal combination of members’ skills, abilities and previous work experiences. Naturally, as group size increases, it is more likely that a given member will possess the qualities necessary to solve problems confronting the group and drive upwards potential performance.
Process losses are any member-based (or member-created) obstacles to achieving potential performance for a group. Examples of process losses are groupthink, interpersonal (personality) conflict, disagreements about methods or goals and high membership turnover (probably due to low cohesiveness).
Actual performance is the difference between potential performance and process losses experienced by the group or team.
Potential performance increases at a decreasing rate with respect to group size. Process losses do the opposite, and total actual performance increases at a decreasing rate relative to group size.
Mean actual performance per member decreases as group size increases because coordination difficulties among members mount as size increases. Mean actual performance per member also declines because there are more reeloaders in larger groups. This is known as the eponymous ‘Ringelmann effect’, named for a French agricultural engineer who proved that more people pulling on a rope results in less effort expended per individual. This, of course, is a powerful justification for developing and using a valid and reliable performance appraisal system.