Why 8 Is the Perfect Size for a Startup Team

Common sense would dictate that the more experts you apply to a problem, the higher the chances of solving it quickly. If you’re trying to build out a digital product and get it to market, it stands to reason you’d want as many people as you can afford on your team.

Unfortunately, common sense would be wrong.

Jeff Bezos famously coined the “2 Pizza Rule” of team size, which emphatically states that if a team can’t be fed with two pizzas, it’s too big. For a big company like Amazon, that rule might apply to the size of a team invited to a particular meeting. But for a digital product startup, that rule should apply to your entire team.

Throwing more people at a problem is one of the easiest ways to make it less likely you’ll solve the problem. And throwing more people at a product virtually ensures it will take longer to get to market. Here’s why.

Communication and Coordination Become Logjams

Another famous Jeff Bezosism, paraphrased: Contrary to contemporary wisdom, more communication is not a good thing. More intimate, meaningful conversations between a few people are far more effective than making an effort to share general information with hordes. There’s an actual mathematical formula to explain why this is true:

N x  (n-1)
N = # of people

If you have 8 people on a team, that’s 28 possible connections. But even twice that many people? 120 connections. The more connections that exist, the more communication to manage, and the higher the chance communication will go wrong.

Each additional person increases total productivity of the team but at a decreasing rate, which means if you were the third member to join a team, you made a bigger impact on its productivity than if you were the thirtieth.”
— Janet Choi on Buffer Social

Quality always trumps quantity when it comes to communication. With smaller teams, communication is more effective, and there’s a higher level of trust among team members.

More Interpersonal Problems Pop Up

Along with the exponential number of connections that are inherent in larger teams, there are more opportunities for people to have problems with each other. Every time you add a team member, you’re increasing the odds of strife in your ranks.

"Big teams usually just end up wasting everyone’s time.”
— Diane Coutu in Harvard Business Review

Resources Ironically Become Harder to Find

A phenomenon known as relational loss is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to ineffective larger teams. With more people involved on a project, each individual is less likely to know all the team members well, so the sense of being able to get quick, appropriate support dwindles.

Engagement and Ownership Decline

The more people you put on a problem, the less personal responsibility each individual feels. This phenomenon is known as social loafing, and happens because with more people getting credit, individuals feel less responsible for the output. “Someone else will take care of it if I don’t” becomes the prevailing attitude.

"The idea of working within small teams is believed to help diminish various innovation killers like groupthink and social loafing."
— Rachel Gillett in Fast Company

When teams become larger, people also tend to underestimate how long it will take to accomplish a task. Research has proven that smaller teams actually accomplish things more quickly.

For all of these reasons, we strongly encourage you to keep your team size small in the beginning. You’ll simply get more done, and your product will be better for it.

Read our book Got Ideas? How to Turn Your Ideas into Products People Want to Use for more on how to build small, strong teams.