Edward Hall: The perfect group size = 8-12 Matt 28 Jun 2006

20 comments Latest by Kenny Moore

Edward Hall’s “Beyond Culture,” a fascinating read, draws upon his experiences as a psychoanalyst and cross-cultural anthropologist to examine how things like language, time, brain structure, and education condition our views of the world. Some of the passages touch on themes we’ve addressed here at SvN (e.g. reality vs. plans, small groups, bureaucracy, etc.) so I’ll post a few excerpts over the next couple of days.

Let’s start with Hall’s conclusion on the perfect group size: 8-12 people. If a group that size can’t get it done, then it’s time to break down the task.

Fortunately, something is known both empirically and scientifically about the influence exerted by size on groups and the effect of size on how the groups perform. Research with business groups, athletic teams, and even armies around the world has revealed there is an ideal size for a working group. This ideal size is between eight and twelve individuals. This is natural, because man evolved as a primate while living in small groups…Eight to 12 persons can know each other well enough to maximize their talents. In groups beyond this size, the possible combinations of communication between individuals get too complex to handle; people are lumped into categories and begin the process of ceasing to exist as individuals. Tasks than can’t be handled by a group of eight to 12 are probably too complex and should be broken down further. Participation and commitment fall off in larger groups — mobility suffers; leadership doesn’t develop naturally but is manipulative and political.

20 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Jake Walker 28 Jun 06

Reading Edward Tufte’s Beautiful Evidence, I’ve learned that that rule, 7 +/- 2, has been bastardized for a lot of things..

Mark 28 Jun 06

My personal experience with teams is to go no more than 7 and, if possible, keeping it an odd number — ultimate being 5 or 7.

Keeping it odd, in my experience, makes it impossible to be evenly divided on an issue.

Daniel 28 Jun 06

I remember my interaction design teacher telling me that a good number of test subjects to use in a usability study of an interface (physical or virtual) is 8. I can’t remember the study he quoted, but the statistics showed that testing with 8 subjects will indentify 90% of the problems a given interface can have. More people, and the rate at which problems are identified will only asymptotically approach 100%.
Now, I know you guys aren’t big on lab-testing (neither am I), but since you test your apps yourself, be happy that your team is pretty close the magic number. Of course the stats may not hold true for 8 developers, but given the products you guys produce, you’re doing pretty darn good nevertheless.
Anyway, it’s not quite the 7 +/- 2 rule, but it’s close - maybe people in a group of around 7 or 8 simply compliment each-other more than they overlap or leave gaps. Call it 7 +/- 2 if you will.

Mike Morton 28 Jun 06

I’m interested to know what people think about 8-12 versus SvN’s recommendation of (paraphrasing) “For a 1.0 product release, the ideal team size is 3”.

Tamim 28 Jun 06

I think a very important thing in groups is that they know each other phisically. Seeing and Touching the other. A group will have a feeling beeing together when they see each other and they know the other guy who belongs to the group.
But what do you think is better. Mixed oder OneSex groups?

Daniel 28 Jun 06

Re: Mike Morton’s post
Well, I think both the 3 people maximum or the 8-12 people rules hold true; it depends on the project. Web apps consist of design and programming work (hence the Getting Real advice of having one person on programming, one on design and one who can do a little of both as needed). Of course design and programming are in themselves many things, but they can be mastered by single individuals. If you’re making a mass-produced consumer electronics product, say, an MP3 player, on the other hand, a broader collections of skills are required (electronics, design, plastics engineering, production design etc etc), so 8-12 seem like a good group size there.
This is not to say that web apps are overly simple - far from it - it’s just a question of context and “the right tool for the job” and so on.
I study design and engineering, and I’d love for all of Getting Real’s advice to work for physical products but for many it unfortunately isn’t practical due to the many different skills required.
Just my 2 cents

Dean Brooks 28 Jun 06

I have done extensive research, as well as some experimental work, on this question of optimum group sizes. My approach is not psychological. Instead I have tried to find an explanation for two persistent statistical anomalies:

1. Group output tends in many situations to fall logarithmically with group size. Each doubling of group size reduces average output by 20 percent on average.

2. Up to a certain point, groups of odd-numbered sizes tend to have a wider range of outcomes than groups of even size.

So for example in air combat, from WW I to the Falklands, groups of 2 or 4 or 6 planes will have more tightly grouped results. They won’t shoot down unusually large numbers of enemies in a single mission, but they will more reliably shoot down at least one as opposed to none. Similarly, their losses will cluster toward the middle of the available range. Groups of 3 and 5 planes will tend to see more “all or nothing” outcomes — either scoring big victories or accomplishing nothing, and suffering losses in similar fashion.

I’ve looked at a huge range of historical data. Here are some examples:

— catastrophic losses of ships from Arctic expeditions
— effectiveness of torpedo salvoes from U-boats
— surface naval combats from the 15th century onward
— Ranger and SEAL patrols in Vietnam

I’ve also found ways to reproduce the effect experimentally. Both of these are real statistical phenomena, and I do have an explanation for both. Although I don’t have space to present it here, the explanation for the odd-numbers thing has to do with how we compute the Jaynes information entropy of the outcomes of compound events. Even numbers of participants invisibly “couple” to one another, which increases the Jaynes entropy and reduces the range of possible values.

The difference in outcome between even-numbered and odd-numbered groups is logarithmically proportional to how improbable the outcome is. Thus in situations where the risk of failure and casualties is high (say 30-50 percent), the effect is accordingly small, a barely noticeable gain of 2-3 percent. In situations where the outcome is very unlikely (for example, air missions where you already hold total air superiority and the loss rate per sortie is 0.1 percent or less), the effect can be huge — groups of 3 and 5 will have double or triple the overall losses of groups of 2, 4, or 6.

The ideal group size thus varies according to what you are trying to do, and how likely the outcome is. American air doctrine still tends to favor groups of 4 planes. This is ideal, given that the outcome they are trying to avoid (being shot down) has been very unlikely in the past few wars, while the outcome they want (delivering bombs on target) has been increasingly likely.

On the other hand, if you are the Argentines in the Falklands War, sticking to 4-up tactics won’t pay off. Far better to come in “vics” of 3. The Japanese in 1945, trying to get kamikazes through the American defenses and hit their carriers, found that being shot down en route was almost inevitable, and mission success was no better than a 10:1 chance. So in that case you go, as the Japanese found through trial and error, with groups of 3 or 5.

As I said, my focus has been on historical and military problems. However, I did turn up one interesting business example: companies that make the INC 500 (a list selected for extraordinary five-year growth rates) tend disproportionately to be founded with 3 or 5 employees, rather than 4 or 6. Obviously, as they hire additional people, the group size changes — but the inference would be that they stand a better chance of making big early gains or establishing a really strong business plan with a group of 3 or 5. (The other inference is that they stand a better chance of going spectacularly bankrupt as well, but INC doesn’t provide data on that.)

Unfortunately, I can’t say very much about the range 8-12. The general argument is the same — even numbers should have narrower ranges of outcomes. However, (a) there is some evidence that we’re really looking more at prime numbers, not simply odd numbers, for the widest range of outcomes: and (b) most history is made by smaller group sizes. For example, about 90 percent of naval and air battles are fought with smaller numbers of ships and planes than that. The INC list is dominated by groups that were initially smaller than that too. But my rule #1, about losing 20 percent of effectiveness when you double in size, is relevant here.

So I don’t have conclusive data for the 8-12 range, but maybe there is reason to look elsewhere anyway.

(As another aside, I used to be the co-ordinator for a multi-discipline manufacturing proposal project team of 10 people. The process was extraordinarily painful, and everyone wanted it fixed. Eventually we ran it as two parallel processes, typically with 5 or 6 people each, and that went better.)

I hope this all isn’t outrageously off-topic. It seems like the discussion has been mostly about cognitive overload issues. I just thought it was worth throwing into the conversation. I am working on a book on this subject, called “The Decline Effect,” which should come out early next year.

Peter Eliasson 29 Jun 06

I wonder if this rule extends to comment as well… we’re reaching the limits on this post, guys!

Richard 29 Jun 06

I’m surprised the number is so high. The only time I’ve seen 8(+) people in the room agree on anything is when they don’t care what they’re agreeing to. I’ve always preferred to shoot for around 5 in a group.

p8 01 Jul 06

Thanks for the thought provoking post Dean!

Scott 03 Jul 06

I agree with the relative size. I too, look at military organization. For example the Navy Seals developed thier smallest unit size specifically around how many people fit in a rubber boat. It’s thier lowest common denomenator. They do thier missions on multiples of this group. Even if it has nothing to do with a rubber boat.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Navy_SEALs
Navy SEAL Teams and Structure
A Navy SEAL Platoon consists of 16 men (2 officers, 14 enlisted men). This can be easily split into 2 squads or four 4-man fire teams for operational purposes. The size of each SEAL “Team” is larger, ranging between eight to ten Boat Teams per SEAL Team.

Jeff Kenny 03 Jul 06

I find Dean’s comment, and this whole topic for that matter, very interesting. And Dean, I have a guess a to why INC 500 companies are typically founded with odd number employees - they need the tie-breaker.

Great post - I’m definitely adding that book to my must read list.

Wesley 04 Jul 06

This discussion of optimum group sizes reminds me of Ricardo Semler, the business revolutionary who runs Semco in Brazil.

Semler believes that small is, if not beautiful, at least essential
for people to know and trust each other. So, when the number of people in a Semco unit hits the 100 to 200 mark it is split in two, like it or not. “No matter what the economics of scale might be in theory,” he said, “we find a way of splitting it.”

From http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/work/handy/transcripts/semler.pdf

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sidekick 2 $95
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Sony Ericsson Z600……100 USD
Sony Ericssson T630…..100 USD
Sony Ericsson S700i…..140 USD
Sony Ericsson S750i…..145 USD
9806LL/A) MP3 Player = USD$100
Motorola A388C……140 USD
Motorola A760…….210 USD
Motorola A768…….220 USD
Motorola A768i……200 USD
Motorola A780…….240 USD
Motorola C550…….85 USD
Motorola C650…….95 USD
Motorola E365…….100 USD
Motorola E398…….120 USD
Motorola E680…….220 USD
Motorola RAZR V3….240 USD
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Motorola V303…….100 USD
Motorola V400…….105 USD
Motorola V500…….140 USD
Motorola V501…….195 USD
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Motorola V600 (OEM) w/ Bluetooth Headset..230 USD
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Motorola V750…..160 USD
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Motorola V80 with Bluetooth…230 USD
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Motorola V878….140 USD
Motorola V300….130 USD
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Samsung E600…120 USD
Samsung E800…140 USD
Samsung P510…110 USD
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Samsung SGH-E700..130 USD
Samsung SGH-E715..140 USD
Samsung SGH-P100..120 USD
Samsung SGH-P400..90 USD
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Samsung SGH-X400..95 USD
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Samsung SGH-X600…100 USD
Samsung X450…….100 USD
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J. Holliday 20 Jul 06

Japanese Kamikaze apparently were quite successful, but this information was downplayed and under represented for a long time. More recent books and TV programs have revealed just how successful the Kamikaze were.

Perhaps your numbers need to be updated.

Kenny Moore 26 Jul 06

CHEAP LAPTOPS FOR SALE
SONY VAIO A217S 100GB 512MB RAM XP HOME$200 SONY VAIO B1VP 40GB HD 512MB RAM XP PRO$130 SONY VAIO T370P/L 60GB HD 512MB RAM XP$150 SONY VAIO A215Z 60GB HD 512MB RAM XP$1450 SONY VAIO A397XP 80GB HD 512MB RAM XP$200 SONY VAIO B100B08 60GB HD 512MB RAM XP-$150 SONY VAIO B100B08 60GB HD 512MB RAM XP-$250 SONY VAIO FS295VP 80GB HD 512MB RAM XP-$200 VAIO FS215Z 100GB HD 512MB RAM XP$350 SONY VAIO A417M 80GB HD 512MB RAM XP$350 SONY VAIO B1VP 40GB HD 512MB RAM XP PRO-$150 SONY VAIO T370P/L 60GB HD 512MB RAM XP PRO-$200 SONY VAIO LAPTOP VGN-A117S$230 SONY VAIO LAPTOP VGN-S1XP$100 ALPHASMART DANA PALM POWERED LAPTOP-$130 APPLE G4 POWERBOOK 1.5GHZ SUPERDRIVE WITH 15 INCH DISPLAY$300 APPLE G5 POWERMAC 2$400 APPLE G4 POWERBOOK 1.5GHZ SUPERDRIVE WITH 17 INCH DISPLAY$250 APPLE G5 POWERMAC 2.5GHZ DESKTOP COMPUTER-$80 TOSHIBA SATELLITE LAPTOP P20-102-$250 APPLE 5GHZ SUPERDRIVE DESKTOP COMPUTER WITH 20 INCH MONITOR-$1500 TOSHIBA SATELLITE LAPTOP P10-803$200 ALPHASMART DANA PALM POWERED LAPTOP$150 ALPHASMART DANA PALM POWERED LAPTOP PACK WIFI VERSION-$150 OQO MODEL 01 ULTRA PERSONAL COMPUTER (XP PRO)-$250 TOSHIBA SATELLITE PRO A60 40GB C2.8GHZ 15INCH DVD/CDR$250 FLYBOOK NOTEBOOK - WI-FI GPRS BLUETOOTH 1GHZ (BLACK)$280 FUJITSU SIEMENS LIFEBOOK P7010 60GB P4 1.1GHZ 10.6INCH DVD/CDRW $200 ASUS A4744K-LH AMD64 POWER WORKSTATION LAPTOP$200 FLYBOOK NOTEBOOK - WI-FI GPRS BLUETOOTH 1GHZ (RED)$310 FLYBOOK NOTEBOOK - WI-FI GPRS BLUETOOTH 1GHZ (BLUE)-$200 ALPHASMART DANA PALM POWERED LAPTOP$100 FLYBOOK NOTEBOOK - WI-FI GPRS BLUETOOTH 1GHZ (YELLOW)$200 TOSHIBA TECRA M2 40GB PM 1.5GHZ 14INCH WIFI DVD-CDRW$200 FLYBOOK NOTEBOOK - WI-FI GPRS BLUETOOTH 1GHZ (SILVER)-$200 TOSHIBA PORTEGE R100 40GB 512MB XP PRO-$200 TOSHIBA SATELLITE LAPTOP M30-742-$250 APPLE G5 POWERMAC 1.8GHZ DESKTOP COMPUTER-$200 HP PAVILION LAPTOP ZD7145EA$200 HP PAVILION LAPTOP ZD7255EA$200 APPLE CINEMA HD 23-INCH TFT LCD MONITOR-$200 SONY VAIO LAPTOP VGN PCGK21 5Z$200 SAMSUNG LAPTOP X30 LWC 1500-$200 G4 POWERBOOK 1.33GHZ SUPERDRIVE WITH 12 INCH DISPLAY-$250 SONY VAIO PCVW2 DESKTOP-$200 HP PAVILION LAPTOP ZX5151EA PHOTOSMART$200 TOSHIBA SATELLITE LAPTOP M30-832-$150 HP PAVILION LAPTOP ZT3215EA-$250 SAMSUNG LAPTOP M40 HWM 545$300 APPLE G4 POWERBOOK 1.3GHZ COMBO WITH 15 INCH DISPLAY-$300 TOSHIBA SATELLITE LAPTOP P20-801$300 APPLE GHZ SUPERDRIVE DESKTOP COMPUTER WITH 20 INCH MONITOR$200 HP PAVILION LAPTOP ZX5275EA-$200 SONY VAIO LAPTOP VGN PCGK21 5S$200 HP PAVILION LAPTOP ZT3350EA-$200 SAMSUNG LAPTOP X15PLUS HZM-$150 APPLE G4 POWERBOOK 1.33GHZ COMBO WITH 12 INCH DISPLAY$250 SONY VAIO DESKTOP RS504 $200 HP PAVILION LAPTOP ZX5030-$200 TOSHIBA SATELLITE LAPTOP M30-106$200 HP MEDIA CENTER DESKTOP COMPUTER M1080 PHOTOSMART-$200 APPLE IBOOK 1.2GHZ COMBO WITH 14.1 INCH DISPLAY-$200 APPLE GHZ SUPERDRIVE DESKTOP COMPUTER WITH 17 INCH MONITOR$200 HP PAVILION LAPTOP ZV5230EA$100 SAMSUNG LAPTOP P28 LTC 330-$150 SONY VAIO DESKTOP V1-$100 TOSHIBA SATELLITE LAPTOP A40-231-$100 HP PAVILION LAPTOP ZV5169EA-$100 APPLE GHZ COMBO DESKTOP COMPUTER WITH 17 INCH MONITOR-$100 APPLE IBOOK 1GHZ COMBO WITH 14 INCH DISPLAY$100 TOSHIBA SATELLITE LAPTOP A40-892-$150 APPLE IBOOK 1GHZ COMBO WITH 12 INCH DISPLAY-$100 HP PAVILION LAPTOP ZV5213EA-$100 FEAUTURES:The good: Beautiful, sleek design; robust software package, including Mac OS X Tiger; illuminated keyboard and big, scrollable touch pad; multimedia features include DVD burner, built-in Webcam, and remote control. The bad: Nonnative software runs slowly; few firm dates on when the software transition will be complete; subpar battery life; lacks media card reader and some other ports; higher-end configurations are much more expensive than their PC equivalents; only 90 days of toll-free technical support. The bottom line: The MacBook Pro delivers unparalleled style, a solid set of features and software, and a few transitional performance issues that keep it from rivaling the most powerful PC laptops.For enquiries contact us @kennymoorestoreinc@yahoo.com.OR Call us @+447024055752.

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