The Small Team Phenomenon

In 1982 Tom Peters and Robert Waterman published “In Search of Excellence”. This remains one of the “must read” books on business. If you don’t have it. Borrow it from someone who does or go to and buy the darned thing. It really is that good.

Anyway contained in that book is a truism that I’ve come across quite often – even recently. This is that small teams- and by that I mean 5 people or less – can innovate and go to market in a very short space of time compared to large teams or even research teams in large companies. Typically there are too many levels of decision making and each one – to justify their existence I suppose – try to add their stamp.

This results in products – especially in a high innovation environment  – being constantly “behind the curve”. Large companies such as SAP, IBM and Oracle are always being made to look slow.

What we need to do is encourage the Sun mentality of paying people to go offsite and develop “something cool”.  It worked for James Gosling and Java. Lockheed have been doing this for years with their “Skunk works” program.

It seems a pity to me that these lessons have been out there since the 1960’s and our leaders of today still pay no attention to them. So just to make it easy to follow – here’s a checklist.

1. Make small teams – no more than 5

2. Put them off-site where they can be semi-autonomous with little or no red tape

3. Try to encourage innovation by making the requirements as wide as possible – but have a generous time limit.

4. Cash in the profits and make shareholders very happy.

There – not too difficult is it. Pah! You’d be surprised – especially when the bean counters hear what you plan.