Agile team size is always a topic of discussion for organizations either transforming to Agile, or even those practicing it for years. When you look at Agile team sizes, especially in Scrum, you always want to find that ideal where productivity reigns and social loafing is minimized or erased. With Agile, less really can mean more regarding productivity and quality of work.
Team Size Impacts Performance
No matter what you look at in the world, team size is going to impact performance. Think about all of the major sports teams. Baseball has nine players on the field, hockey six on the ice, all due to that being the ideal team size. If one of those players is committing social loafing, not pulling their weight, it will show quickly. In baseball, if you had 15 people in the field, you may not realize if a few were not doing their very best.
Finding the relationship between team size and productivity is ongoing. Research dates back hundreds of years, with experiments and studies trying to come up with answers. Agile has taken a lot of this research and adopted it in their development of guidance.
In Scrum, the typical ideal team size is 7, with the ability to drop down to five or increase to nine. There should not be team sizes in Scrum below 5 or above 9. Too many times, human resource managers think that, simply by adding people, you increase productivity and that philosophy is wrong.
Social loafing is nothing new. It is seen demonstrated on teams of all sizes that rely on various skill sets of individuals. Prevention of social loafing is the goal and what studies have found is that reducing team size is the answer. The Ringelmann Effect is a trend where, as the group size increases, productivity decreases. It is all about the ideal state. You don't want a team that is too big, or too small. You want just enough team power to pull value from the backlog, you want everyone to pull together and with force.
Scrum and its Drive Against Social Loafing
Scrum is designed to drive away social loafing and increase productivity. Breaking down work into small, manageable chunks is pivotal. Another way Scrum helps to defeat social loafing is to create a sense of urgency. With Scrum and the Sprint planning where pieces of work are broken down into User Stories to complete over a short period of time (Sprint), you have the urgency in place. The Sprint Backlog helps manage this. You understand what the team has to accomplish, and if someone does not complete the task or assignment, it is glaring as to why.
Transparency is also a pivotal point to bring up here. You need the team and its efforts to be transparent. The team needs to know, as well as the stakeholders and sponsors. In Scrum, you have transparency with Sprint Demos, Retrospectives, Sprint Planning, and other Agile Events. They are out in the open; the work is highly visible. If you have someone slacking, the transparency inherent in Scrum, when implemented properly, will help expose the loafer.
Social loafing will never disappear entirely. The goal should be to identify when it is taking place to act on it timely, to increase productivity and reduce waste. With Agile and Scrum, ideal team size is a great starting point in any transformation. The other mechanisms of Scrum will help make for a transparent environment where, if anyone is loafing; it will be known more quickly.