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Small But Mighty – The Advantages Of Small Teams As A Companies Tactical Force

Written by: Lars Friedrich, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Lars Friedrich

In Special Forces military units, the advantages of small teams are well-known and applied actively, as military history is packed with stories of small groups beating the odds. And during the last years, these same strategic advantages have been introduced, transferred, applied & integrated into corporate & entrepreneurial environments too.

group of young business people working on their laptop inside the office

Many of us believe the best way to come up with a solution is to have many minds working together – a swarm intelligence approach. And particularly, the installation of multiple project teams, think tanks, ivory towers & task forces are prevalent in professional organisational settings. Yet this isn't always the best approach! Sometimes a small team is better! Better for greater flexibility, fewer resources, faster training & tighter schedules. And by maximising the ability to change direction quickly to operate without the logistical restrictions of competition, a team's size can work to a company's advantage. Keeping teams small and feedback honest enables companies to reach time-saving & effective solutions because they allow for a more direct, personal approach and higher adaptability to unforeseeable change to accomplish set goals. In Special Forces units, the advantages of small teams as key features and the successful conduct of special operations relies on individual and small-unit proficiency. These highly trained forces use specialised operational skills applied with self-leadership, adaptability, persistence, improvisation, problem-solving, innovation, resilience & self-reliance, leading to unique capabilities & self-sufficiency. In corporate environments, often, the larger and more complex a company's hierarchy, the longer it takes to make any desired progress, and some companies have giant & bureaucratic structures, with staff working together across many departments or, even worse, different departments working on the same assignments without knowing about each other. And evidently, this can seriously complicate the decision-making process!


The traditional approach

For example, take Dell, an American-based technology company that develops, sells, repairs & supports computers and related products& services. It has many different departments, such as customer support & sales, and each has another CEO. And due to this very traditional organisational setup, it takes a long time for anything to be accomplished. This problem was made concrete when Dell attempted to create a new branding strategy around 2011. The project ran for several months across different departments but didn't make any progress. Eventually, it was discarded because the differentteams couldn't find a satisfying approach! By maximising the ability to change direction quickly and operate without the logistical restrictions of competition, a team's size can work to a company's advantage.


The small teams approach

On the other hand, as another example, Apple has enjoyed success by doing the opposite of Dell in implementing the idea of small teams for the decision-making process. Instead of having large teams made up of good people, they built small ones of excellent, highly-skilled people. That way, everyone contributed without holding the rest back.


Highly-skilled people

This approach proved effective where the core design & marketing teams never had more than a hundred people, and Steve Jobs came up with this number as this was the maximum number of names he could remember. And when creating & developing small teams of highly skilled people, it's important to give them tight deadlines to make them work as efficiently as possible.


"A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players." – Steven 'Steve' Paul Jobs

As ongoing research & studies have shown, people tend to work better and more efficiently if given a limited amount of time to produce a high-quality result.

And Apple allows a maximum of three months for marketing projects, from the brainstorming process to the ad's launch.


It has been proven that this is enough time to choose and develop the best ideas and prepare a launch strategy without it becoming overly complicated or allowing too many other and even conflicting to arise.


Leadership challenges

The first requirement to make a small teamwork? A strong, creative leader and an inspiring & decisive leadership because leading a smaller team isn't always easy. There's clearly truth in strength in numbers, and it would be misguided not to recognise the downsides of a more compact team from the beginning. Less workforce, for one, means smaller teams generally have fewer experts. While small groups can cope remarkably well with large assignments by attacking them aggressively, an abundance of smaller problems can also have a tendency to snowball. The quality of a team's talent & performance is just as important as its size: one low performer could account for 10 percent of it. And being a leader of a small team comes with some responsibilities.


Being present

A small team is only as strong as its connection to its leader, and the number one responsibility is always to be available to answer the teams' questions and solve problems when members get stuck. Over time, they will know their leader got their back and is approachable, building their morale, loyalty & willingness to put in the extra work to finish before the set deadline.


Frequent meetings

By supplying necessary & frequent updates, a leader can executive effective strategy changes immediately, but they should beware of oversharing. The leadership strength here is the ability to have consistent personal time with the team to decrease their paperwork. And instead of the same implemented status spreadsheets and "updates about updates" usually required by larger teams, holding more frequent all-hands meetings to stay in touch with everyone's progress.


In that way, each team member can take turns updating the group on their work and answering questions, so the leader can take the initiative for all to move onward with renewed purpose.


Getting out of their way

Most of the time, team members are handpicked, so allowing them to show off their abilities and shine in their zone of genius is essential, which means avoiding micromanaging at all costs! To flatten the hierarchy and encourage employees to give each other constructive advice without the influence of a leader's expertise. Handing a team their objectives and getting out of the way will grow their camaraderie & connection, build their confidence, and gives a leader the occasional much-needed break.


Free communication

A team's strength lies in its size, so minimising the sporadic communication of interoffice emails with tons of cc's and embracing a more informal messaging & productivity tool like, e.g., Slack instead, frees more practical capacities. Being able to communicate quickly & easily allows all team members to avoid stopping their assigned tasks as they wait for a response.


Preparing for the worst

It's important to establish a set of concrete plans & protocols for conflict resolution early on in the life of a team without being afraid to fall back on them as often as necessary. A team hinges on its cohesiveness, so addressing problems as soon as they arise is an important part of leadership.


"Sis vis pacem, para bellum! – In time of peace, preparefor war!” – Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus

Because working in such proximity often makes people testy, and keeping everyone focused and reminding them of the team's purpose, the deadline and the goals to be achieved will help to avoid major blow-ups & setbacks.


Employee engagement

Generally, smaller teams have the advantage of fitting into one shared space, allowing for a personal approach for every team member.


And leaders should use this as an advantage by surveying their team by responding to their requests to create an ideal environment for their chosen workplace. Whether it's ergonomic chairs and standing desks, a meditation room or an in-office gym. Taking the time to play around with the shared workplace design is improvement that involves an investment in employee engagement, but you shouldn't stop there as a leader! And game rooms or a stocked fridge, frequently installed in entrepreneurial start-ups, may seem like great motivators, but those things are only one small ingredient for better engagement. Especially for a small team, strong investment in engagement is key to keeping the team members productive! Leadership should never stop building & growing a team culture to ensure continued engagement for going forward and achieving peak performance.


Conclusion

During the last 15 years, the experiences the military made with highly efficient & specialised teams of Special Forces units for goal-oriented outcomes have been frequently transferred, applied & integrated into corporate & entrepreneurial environments. In that way, small but mighty teams as a tactical force have been introduced. But not every company & organisation is suitable for implementing small teams into their workflow for different and specific reasons. And leading small teams requires stronger, more engaged, creative, inspiring & decisive leadership, which, obviously, not every leader is capable of. Learn more about implementing small teams in organisations and how to lead them by reaching out. As a former Special Forces Operator & executive in corporate international business operations & development environments, I bring a wealth of experience, knowledge & expertise to the table.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

Lars Friedrich Brainz Magazine
 

Lars Friedrich, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Lars Friedrich is an expert in personal & professional leadership transformations refined with a touch of Zen. As a former Officer & Special Forces Operator, executive in international & intercultural corporate positions and founder of his boutique business, he has vast accumulated experience, expertise & knowledge in leadership, resilience, endurance, commitment, persistence & dedication. Furthermore, Lars Friedrich trained in traditional Japanese Martial Arts for 42 years and frequently travels to Japan for his ongoing tuition, which amplifies his experience. With family ties & homes in Australia, Finland & Germany, he is proudly serving & guiding male & female leaders via shared knowledge & passion.

 

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