One of the most universal shifts in the innovation sector in recent years has been the growth of large teams in all areas of research and development, while lonely inventors, researchers and small teams have all been on the decline. This fundamental shift is crucial for science and innovation policy, as it points to large teams as optimal engines for tomorrow's greatest advancement.
But do large and small teams vary by type of innovation? That's what scientists put in to test. They examined millions of papers, patents, and software projects, and found that while large teams actually promote and develop science, small teams are critical to disrupting it ̵
"The discovery of 21 st centuries" was awarded to the Nobel Prize two years after it was made. In 2015, the Laser Interferometers Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) finally revealed what it was built for: gravitational waves ripples in the fabric in space and time – caused by the collapse of two black holes.
Among many things, the LIGO experiment is a testament to the team's power to tackle 21 st the toughest challenges of the century. In fact, one of the most universal shifts in the innovation sector in recent years has been the growth of large teams in all areas of research and development, while lonely inventors, researchers, and small teams have all been declining.
This fundamental shift is crucial for science and innovation policy, as it points to large teams as optimal engines for tomorrow's greatest advancement.
But do large and small teams vary by type of innovation? That's what we set out to test with our postdoctoral researcher Lingfei Wu. We examined millions of papers, patents and software projects that summarized our insights into a paper published in Nature . In short, we found that while large teams actually promote and develop science, small teams are critical of disrupting it – a finding with broad implications for science and innovation.
Major Layers Dominance
] Decades of team and collaborative research have documented the increasing dominance of larger teams of individuals and small teams in research, development and creative tasks ranging from scientific studies to Broadway musicals.
In fact, today there are rarely effective discoveries and inventions emerging from a solo scientist, but rather from complex networks of innovators working together in larger, more diverse and increasingly complex teams. This tendency reflects an important conclusion that has become a simple recipe: when it comes to teaming, greater is better.
Part of the reason we need big teams is that some results simply aren't possible for smaller groups to draw. For example, the Nobel-winning LIGO experiment involved shooting two laser beams between two 4-kilometer-long tunnels built into an ultra-high vacuum to detect a variation around one-thousandth of a proton's diameter. It had by far the highest price level of any project ever funded by the National Science Foundation. It is therefore not surprising that the paper reporting the discovery contains more than 1,000 researchers.
However, there is reason to believe that larger teams are not optimized for discovery or invention. For example, large teams are more likely to have coordination and communication problems – getting everyone aboard an unconventional hypothesis or method or changing direction to follow a new leader will prove challenging. Large teams can also be risk-weighted, as they require an ongoing success stream to "pay the bills". As such, large teams such as large business organizations tend to focus on secure gaming with more established markets. In contrast, small teams such as small ventures and more are losing and losing, more likely to make new, undiscovered opportunities.
This leads us to ask whether the story of trusting large teams might be incomplete. Our research suggests that team size dictates, in principle, the nature of the work that a team is capable of producing, and less team size gives some critical benefits that large teams do not enjoy.
Large teams develop, small teams upset
To investigate the effects of team size, we analyzed over 65 million papers, patents and software products that came out between 1954 and 2014.
We compared the work with large teams to smaller groups , with a "small" team defined as one with three or fewer members. We measured the disturbance of a work using an established disorder that assesses how much a particular work destabilizes its field. This told us how the research magnified or made us rethink the former state of the art, which is a valuable new direction for others to follow.
Our analyzes uncovered an almost universal pattern: while large teams tended to develop and develop ideas and designs, their smaller counterparts tended to disturb current thoughts with new ideas, inventions, and opportunities.
In other words, large teams stand out to solve problems, but small teams are more likely to come up with new problems for their more significant counterparts to solve. Working from large teams tends to build on newer, popular ideas, while small teams move further into the past and find inspiration in more vague past ideas and opportunities. Large teams, like large film studios, are more likely to create followers than new stories. We found that as the team size grows from 1 to 50 members, the corresponding level of disturbance decreases.
Our results proved remarkably robust against many tests and alternative explanations. For example, one might argue that certain types of people are more likely to work for smaller or larger teams, thus changing the results associated with each. But when we compared the work of the same individual on a small team to a large team, we found systematic differences in accordance with our results. We also found that team differences are not due to the different types of topics that large and small teams tend to study. This suggests that it's about team size rather than effective sorting of people and problems.
Support Small Teams
Our work has a few important practical implications. Generally, large teams remain important at several levels, including excessive work related to patents, software development, and other areas. But supporting large teams alone could interfere with the growth of innovative ideas by preventing the thriving ecology of science and technology.
Although LIGO was a task that had no small team could have achieved, a new spectrum of astronomical observation opens, initial breakthroughs being a meticulous demonstration of past hypotheses. The consortium assigned any measured deviation from theory to the instrument's error, making it logically impossible to breach expectations. LIGO was built to validate the highly disruptive theory of general relativity suggested exactly 100 years before. In November 1915, when the Prussian Academy of Sciences first heard that "the discovery of 20th century th" it was made by a single author: Albert Einstein, the ultimate small team. The idea of gravity waves and their measurement both advance science, but in very different ways.
Moreover, given the perceived benefits of large teams, there is evidence that finance agencies may prefer larger teams unless even both are equally qualified. It can contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy that slowing supports disproportionate teams. If we are not serious about supporting and nurturing small teams that interfere with conventional thinking by generating new directions, it is possible that innovation, the economic growth engine, will slow down. Without small teams we can never find the new problems for large teams to solve or the new products for large teams to develop.
This means that both types of teams are crucial to the long-term vitality of innovation: while small teams can drive disruption and innovation, larger teams can pick up the ball and engage in greater development of a given area like part of a skilled cycle.
These ideas also apply to business. In recent times, it has been easy to believe that adding another member or three to a team will always be the right choice – or at least not hurt. Our research shows that this is not true. Creating larger teams is likely to shift focus and outcome from disruptive to developmental. For the most innovative projects trying to disrupt a field and move the needle dramatically, one might have to consider how to shrink the team's size.
Jeff Bezos famously said, "If you can't feed a team of two pizzas, it's too big." We need larger multidisciplinary business teams to solve increasingly complex global problems, but smaller ventures and teams within They are crucial to nimbly searching through new opportunities and identifying next year's transformative innovations. It is therefore crucial to ensure that different types of teams can work together, for greater overall performance within and across companies and industries.
Bottom line is: Bigger is not always better. Finding the right team size for the job can be the first question for tomorrow's leaders to respond to unlocking their business potential.