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You don’t have to have a big team to achieve big things

This tech CEO shares why he doesn’t believe that growth needs to come from a big team.

You don’t have to have a big team to achieve big things
[Photo: iStock]
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Let’s go to that new Japanese restaurant downtown.
No, it’s too far, how about the old Italian place?
The one near my house is always good!
I vote we try something new.

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I’m standing in the middle of a crowded living room full of my favorite people. All around me, I hear a cacophony of opinions about where to dine. There’s 12 of us, and we’re all getting impatient, louder, and more than a little hungry. Over 30 minutes later, and no one can decide on where to eat. Instead of opting for trying something new, we end up ordering pizza. Again.

As the saying goes: too many cooks spoil the broth. And I believe the same can easily apply to the business world. When there are too many voices involved in decision-making, innovation goes out the door.

The benefits of a small team

The moment I launched my startup 13 years ago, I knew I wanted two things: to acquire the skill set needed to make my company a success and not to take a penny in outside funding. This meant that as a CEO, I would have to make do with a smaller team from the get-go.

Unlike larger organizations with a large C-suite and multiple founders and investors, going small from the start made me realize the value in pooling complementary skill sets while working toward a single purpose.

As Alpha Software CEO Richard Rabins previously noted for Fast Company, smaller teams have a leg up. Not only are they easier to manage than larger ones—but they’re also less expensive. When your C-suite becomes too crowded, for example, “it’s easier for some voices to get lost,” Rabins explains, “or for the team to lack a common sense of direction.”

At JotForm, our employees work in small, cross-functional teams, but I like to set this example in my leadership style as well. While some companies are continually crafting new positions with fancy titles, what matters most to me is that the higher level team I do have remains agile and highly collaborative.

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Finding the sweet spot for how many people to bring in will be different for everyone, but here are four more reasons to keep your circle small.

Smaller teams see big picture solutions

In my experience, a smaller team with deeper skill sets is far more lucrative than a larger group of specialists. I’d rather work alongside people like Leonardo Da Vinci, a polymath who didn’t devote himself to one single calling—rather than continue to add in executives who specialize only in one area.

“The problem with deep specialization is that specialists tend to get stuck in their own points of view,” Kyle Wiens argues in a story for Harvard Business Review. “They’ve been taught to focus so narrowly that they can’t look at a problem from different angles. And in the modern workscape we desperately need people with the ability to see big picture solutions.”

Because of this, we encourage our C-level executives to keep learning outside of their comfort zone.

Smaller teams stay focused

Everyone in your C-level suite should be rowing in the same direction, or your organization will lose steam. Adding in too many people—who all have their own list of priorities—can quickly derail your team’s focus and eventually make management unsustainable. There’s nothing worse than squabbling executives trying to make their voices heard.

In psychology, the Ringelmann effect refers to the tendency for individual productivity to decrease as group size increases. That’s because as larger groups form, we as individuals stop paddling as hard and feel less responsible for our output. Smaller, agile teams are more likely to carry their weight, are better able to make decisions, and execute tasks in a shorter amount of time.

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has a well-known rule that I like to apply—never have a meeting where two pizzas couldn’t feed the entire group. Otherwise, you’re at risk of stifling creativity and becoming inefficient.

Smaller teams foster communication and transparency

In smaller C-level teams, there’s less room for misunderstandings to fester. Since everyone plays a big hand in shaping a project, it’s much easier to recognize and give credit to individual efforts and accomplishments, which makes way for greater transparency.

The fewer people there are, the more streamlined communication can be. If the company needs to make a decision, team members can quickly huddle and discuss options on the spot. They’re able to move fast.

There is also a one-to-one relationship between team members, which makes it far more likely that they’ll be mutually respectful of one another’s unique expertise. When each person brings their own varied skill set to the table, problem-solving becomes more agile, and innovation grows, which ultimately affects your bottom line.

They don’t waste company resources

“The downside to making everyone in your organization a chief,” venture capital Russell Fleischer previously wrote for Fast Company, “is that it easily slows down decision-making.” In other words, more people means more bureaucracy and more havoc. “I’ve seen CMOs, for example, decide they need to be involved in various sales initiatives because they carried a weightier title than their peer running sales day-to-day,” wrote Fleischer. “Lacking expertise but flexing their titles, these chiefs can derail otherwise smooth-running processes.”

By keeping your C-level small, you’re ensuring that everyone is using their time and energy more productively. Executives are likely to be more engaged and self-motivated, which promotes more efficiency and less wasted resources. This is in contrast to larger groups, where team members are prone to zoning out and not actively contributing during meetings.

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More importantly, each person can make a more significant impact because they aren’t just another cog in the machine. As a result, they can bring their valuable skill sets to the forefront. It’s a win-win for everyone.


Aytekin Tank is the founder of JotForm, a popular online form builder. Established in 2006, JotForm allows customizable data collection for enhanced lead generation, survey distribution, payment collections, and more.