Angry Gamer commented

I have been studying Venture Capitalist funding lately and they have a lot of thoughts on teams vs solo entrepreneurship. They say 2 or 3 person teams are ideal. One individual can succeed if he hires right. But more than 3 is a disaster. As in ZERO IPOs on any founding teams more than 3. They are so adamant about this they don’t fund startups with large founding teams.

But what was interesting is the preference for 2-3 member founding teams. That was fascinating to me. So I think you are on to something with this – “Men can’t achieve greatness alone.”

That’s interesting about founder team size.

I had heard that for committees or meetings an optimum size is closer to 8.

A little digging found that optimum size is different depending on the tasks.

For programming it’s four. From

Results from the two experiments conducted indicate that teams of four people working collaboratively on software projects given were able to perform effectively at optimal level. This result could be attributed to the fact that collaboration with four people improves the analysis and programming skills of the participants, there-
by reducing the time spent on the task. With one of them acting as the coordinator for the team, another in charge of typing on the system; others can act as inspectors for bugs and wrong coding styles as the task progresses. Two heads are better than one, so the maxim says. But it is demonstrated in this study four good programmers will make an optimal team in computer programming tasks.


When teams pool skills and resources, their decision making improves, and they can make better decisions as a group than any one of them could do alone. Researchers call this collective intelligence.

“…teams are prolific in organizations. From a managerial perspective, there is this rising recognition that teams can function to monitor individuals more effectively than managers can control them.”

So while most individuals form teams under the assumption that they’ll be able to accomplish more complex tasks thanks to the complimentary skillsets of their peers, organizations as a whole benefit from team formation by reducing the need for management.

Everyone can win from flattening organizations.

If five major skillsets are required, there doesn’t necessarily need to be five people on the team. As long as time isn’t a factor, four people covering the requirements would be preferable to five.

Teams need a clear leader though:

“We had a class on the ‘no-no’s of team building, and having vague, not clearly defined goals is a very, very clear no-no. Another no-no would be a leader who has difficulty taking the reins and structuring the process. Leadership in a group is very important.”

Keep in mind that a team can self-organize and pick what they want to work on, but the leader needs to shape how they do that, and what can be picked from.

four-group-size-ideal-for-brainstorming4.6 members is a team size sweet spot.  If the team is experienced and know each other well and doing standardized tasks, the size can grow.

What’s a typical leader-to-doer ratio? Consider the experience of the team. Less experienced, newer teams will need to be smaller. More experienced, established teams can be larger. Tomasz Tunguz, VC at Redpoint Ventures, observed that at Google team ratios ranged from 1:2 to 1:20, with an average of 1:7.

In 1970, Hackman and Vidmar set out to get a sense for that by asking two questions to individuals from groups of 2-7: Is your group too small for the task? Is your group too big for the task? The percentage of yesses to the first question fell as the second’s rose, and the lines intersected at a team size of 4.6 members.

Of course team size is not the same as organization size.  Teams collaborate on specific tasks, and the company can have any number of tasks.

project-coordinationThis is an important finding:

Decision making in particular is improved by a higher collective intelligence. You might be surprised to hear that collective intelligence is not strongly affected by the individual intelligence of team members. Rather, it’s social sensitivity and conversational turn-taking that predict collective intelligence.

She describes social sensitivity as the degree to which people can read facial expressions and make attributions about what others are thinking and feeling.

Conversational turn-taking is how evenly distributed talking time is across group members. Groups with more evenly distributed talking times tend to have higher collective intelligence.

loud-mouth206There was a potential intern who was briefly visiting (a friend of Aarons) who tended to dominate conversations.  You’d have to tackle him to the floor to get a word in edgewise.  I found it worse than annoying, but others in the group showed no signs of being annoyed by him. To me he was a blowhard with nothing interesting to say but who wouldn’t shut the fuck up about it. He loved hearing his own voice. I quietly let it be known that he would not be invited into the group. Others laughed at his clowning but to me he just sucked all the fun out of interacting with the group. Loudmouth.

One image crystallizes how I view him.  We’d all been doing shrooms. I did more than most – maybe a double dose. The guys started to get louder as they got more awestruck. I’m a more contemplative sort, so as they got more animated I went to my room to hang out with my girl. This guy went into the bathroom and then screamed at the top of his lungs “my toothbrush is melting!1!”. Others were amused but I saw it as the ultimate drama queen act. Shut the fuck up! Attention whore.

argumentativeThere was another intern who was clever and had good contributions and was well liked enough, but I had problems with him as he tended to enjoy defending his arguments more than collaborating. He liked to bicker. I saw the whole group dynamic dramatically shift after he arrived. Before we were very civil, often complementing each other. Later insults became the preferred team sport, and “good natured” arguments arose over every tiny little fucking thing. It annoyed the hell out of me, until I just couldn’t take it anymore. An altercation arose out of this intern disagreeing and refusing to follow my directions for several days despite clearly explaining that I was in charge and had made my decision and he was to use the system I chose. That was my reason for letting him go, but while I did so I vented a tirade at him explaining that I found him disagreeable.

I think others in the room were a bit shocked and uncomfortable to see me fire and lambast him like that, on the spot. But I’m not running a social club. I’m running a business.

Which is the line that came out of me when I fired my personal assistant of two years yesterday. She was routinely incompetent, but the final reason for firing her was also for insubordination; repeatedly not following instructions on a specific issue after many warnings, the last written warning letting her know she’d be fired again if she ever disregarded it. She cried about being fired and an assistant tried to beg me to let her stay, because she’ll miss her. “I’m not running a social club here. This is a business.”

did-i-stutter-bitchActually the thing that annoyed me most about my secretary was not the incompetence, nor the insubordination. It was that she was forever asking me to repeat myself. I believe the habit was a passive aggressive act; she felt powerless and wanted more power, and so was constantly challenging my choices, in deniable ways.



passive-aggressive-nevermindI have another passive aggressive employee who causes no end of trouble, and I have to keep telling her “stop using your brain!” She is forever directly going against explicit often repeated and agreed to instructions, because “she thought”. Yesterday I told her I want to scoop out her brain so that she can no longer “but she thought”, and would just do as told. She’s worth the problems though, as she’s brought in some financing and is overseeing a property development.

I did warn her, using the fired personal assistant as an example of what eventually happens to people who can’t follow orders. In her case nothing I can do will ever change her behaviour though, as she is genuinely and diagnosably passive aggressive to the point of it being a fixed personality disorder. It’s caused a lot of problems.

She’s also doting and submissive and loyal. Seems to be part of the package. Submissive but passive aggressive. And no, it’s not due to errors in my management style; personality disorders are real and serious and can’t be corrected or managed by the people the defective person interacts with. The best that can be done is to minimize the persons power to cause harm.

I offer all these examples to illustrate the importance of choosing and firing the right personalities for collaboration.

It’s not only about skill. Personality is hugely important. And it’s the leaders role to rip out strong and healthy weeds and toss them in the trash.


On the job training

Learning-PyramidI’m considering mixing internship with sales training. We’d develop some sort of syllabus and structure and devote a few hours per day to structured classes. The rest of the work day would be devoted to practical real world application. This would be offered to fresh university graduates.

I may be able to pay the interns for converting their class notes into blog posts, which would give content to the recruitment site.