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Why Small Teams Disrupt Best
How to Work like a Small Team and Move Fast
Welcome to Designing Futures. I’m Josh and every week, I simplify and share practical design and UX advice for Indie hackers, founders and product teams on taking ideas from zero to one.
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The best ideas grow with others, and the boldest innovations begin with a small, energised, ambitious team.
My favourite projects have been the ones where we rallied together, in a small group, to achieve an exciting goal in a short space of time. It makes you feel connected, and part of something that’s progressing together, bigger than yourself alone. You can safely bounce ideas off each other, and with the right energy, create something truly exciting and strive for excellence.
Airbnb started with three founders, and both Whatsapp and Instagram sold to Facebook when it had less than 55 employees. Small teams have the power to create incredible ideas and bring them into the world.
Let’s dive into the reasons behind why I believe small teams disrupt best, and walk through tips for your current project, or next one, on how you can work as small as possible.
1. Small increases focus
It’s well known that small teams, when high performing, are synonymous with speed. Their size allows for rapid consensus on objectives and streamlines their path toward a unified vision, reducing unnecessary stakeholder opinions or conflicts. In turn, this increases their overall performance due to the layers of communication being condensed.
2. Small generates magic
In a small team, you can feel when the magic is happening. Go watch this clip of when Dr Dre and Eminem met for the first time to see what that looks like.
Stripped of bureaucratic layers, a few people together can create a force of passion, agility, and common purpose. Their strength lies in unity, vision, and having space to think. Each member brings a piece of the puzzle, and together, they craft solutions and ideas that larger groups may not have the capacity to create. The magic happens when diverse skills and close collaboration start to bond, and there’s an unstoppable energy in the room between people. It lays the track for future innovation to evolve.
“As we’ve gotten bigger, we’ve tried to retain that small vibe.” - Electric Theatre, How Electric Theatre Collective Made Pharrell's "Cash In Cash Out" Video
Andy Allen, one of my favourite makers, has achieved excellence time and time again with a small team, creating some of the most beautiful software available today.
“A startup is the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future. A new company's most important strength is new thinking: even more important than nimbleness, small size affords space to think.” - Peter Thiel, Zero to One.
3. Small kickstarts innovation
Small teams are the 1st gear towards creating something great. They create the work that large teams then build upon. This is true in reflection to some of the once disruptive, now familiar and trusted services we use today. Established companies such as Uber, Airbnb and Coinbase were once fun experiments which now, having been built upon with sophistication and rigour, finally deliver upon the original mission set out by those intending to disrupt from the outset.
“Small teams fuel the future, generating ideas that, if they succeed, will be the source of big-team development.” Small Teams of Scientists Have Fresher Ideas, Ed Yong, The Atlantic.
It takes time for innovation to establish. Products or services are arguably only innovative once people are using them. It takes an incredible amount of effort, will, and focus to go from zero to one and persuade early adopters it’s valuable–large teams refine and scale on that success to create mass adoption.
Small teams fuel the future, generating ideas that, if they succeed, will be the source of big-team development. Startups create, scale-ups optimise. Perhaps this is an integral economical part of the innovation lifecycle?
How to work as small as possible
Right now, you may be already working in a team, about to form a new project, or looking for collaborators. Sometimes you can’t easily change the team and stakeholders you have. But, there are things we can do to work in ways that are closer to the ways small teams operate.
1. Narrow your focus
Remind yourself, what is the current goal of your team right now? How can you move towards that goal more effectively? What can you remove to make it faster, or achieve quality to a higher degree? Who are all your owners or stakeholders that you need to get sign off from?
2. Foster creative thinking as a team
Imagine an environment where ideas can flourish. Lead by example and be open to confidently sharing any new ideas you have with your team, or ways to improve what you’re working on. You’ll help create an environment of psychological safety, and allow the magic to start forming.
3. Reduce process, Increase collaboration
As teams get bigger, there's often an inevitable increase in processes and communication channels. Aim for directness and simplicity in how you work together. Prioritise boosting collaboration rates over establishing processes. Remember, the ultimate goal is to deliver value to your users. The route to achieve that is yours to define.
The other week we spoke about how to create products which are better, even if they aren’t first to market. Uber didn't invent taxis, and Netflix didn't invent movie rentals—yet they both revolutionised these sectors by making them more accessible. At the heart of these innovations were small, ambitious teams.
They all started by nurturing a fleeting idea, and willing them into reality. Stay focused, embrace the power of small, and create something truly remarkable.
See you next week,
Josh (@joshuanewton1) 🔮
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