I've written before about the importance of corporate culture, how to define it, and how to enforce it to help your company reach peak performance. Culture is the line a group draws that separates the behaviors they stand for, advocate, and tolerate from the behaviors they will not tolerate. This line is always present and is being drawn and enforced at all times.
It's important to note, however, that defining and enforcing corporate culture looks much different in small organizations and teams than it does in large ones. That may seem obvious--the more people you add to a team, the more complicated managing the team becomes. But how do you know when your team may need a bit more structure to be effective? And what changes do you need to make as the leader?
That's where the number seven comes into play. Seven is the threshold of people involved in a meeting or a project that, once exceeded, demands changes to management. Seven is where small group behavior gives way to large group behavior.
Teams and organizations of seven or less can basically self-manage and self-regulate. These smaller teams can informally ensure that objectives and roles are clear and that everyone is contributing and accountable. Alignment is fairly easy to establish and maintain.
When the team exceeds seven people, the group begins to exhibit large group behavior. The techniques that were used to manage the group when it was smaller begin to fail. Keeping the group aligned on vision, objectives, roles, and interdependencies becomes challenging. Fragmentation breaks out everywhere.
That is, unless the leaders make adjustments to the inner workings of the group as they grow. Here are the crucial shifts that peak performance leaders make as their teams and organizations exceed seven members:
1. Shift from informal and implicit processes to more formal and explicit processes.
As the group adds new members, leaders need to be clear about how the group's work is done to manage quality and consistency across the team.
2. Shift from oral explanations of vision, goals, roles, and accountabilities to written documents.
As teams grow, new roles and accountabilities are established to meet the group's vision and goals. Leaders need to make sure everyone on the team understands their roles and what they're responsible for so that nothing falls through the cracks. Writing down the vision, goals, roles, and accountabilities also reduces the opportunities for individual interpretation.
3. Shift from assuming everyone is on the same page to assuming everyone is not.
With a small team, it's pretty easy to make sure everyone knows what's going on and what's expected of them. Once the group grows, leaders need to invest energy in making sure the group always has a shared perspective.
4. Shift from self-managed to facilitated meetings.
Facilitating meetings ensures that every meeting has a clear purpose, desired outcomes, and agenda so the meeting stays on track and achieves its goals and everyone can participate fully.
5. Shift from an informal culture to an intentional culture.
When a team is small, it's easier for everyone to stay on the same page about what behaviors the group tolerates and what it doesn't. With a larger group, leaders need to spend time explicitly defining those behaviors and revisiting them as a group to make sure everyone is living into them.
6. Shift from consensus-driven decision making to a mix of consensus and command and control.
With a small group, the leader can incorporate the thoughts and opinions of each person in the decision making process. But consensus-based decision making becomes cumbersome with larger groups, particularly with urgent decisions. In large groups, leaders need to be prepared to take on a command and control style of decision making when the situation arises.
How many of your meetings have more than seven people in attendance? How many of your projects require more than seven people to get the work done? When did your organization exceed seven employees? Being attentive to the rule of seven and making the requisite shifts will help boost your success.