Jun 21, 2016

Special delivery: Two-pizza teams



Moodi Mahmoudi

When it comes to the science of innovation, the individual is obviously an important — if not the most important — component. It is true: anyone can be an innovator; it doesn’t take a mad genius or an auteur. Equipped with the right tools and given the correct guidance, every employee of every company that has ever existed would be able to actively contribute to innovation.

But there are steps that can be taken to ensure that individual innovators maximize collective efficiency.

Enter “Two-Pizza Teams.”

The term comes from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, referencing the scientifically provable theory that small teams — comprised of three to nine individuals, a group that can be fed by two pizzas — innovate best. In a sense, Two-Pizza Teams both broaden and narrow the scope of innovation, as there might be hundreds — even thousands — of small teams working on different solutions to different problems, depending on the size of your organization.

Two-Pizza Teams also protect against team scaling fallacy — most organizations underestimate the declining efficiency of larger teams. It’s all about the number of links within a group, which can be demonstrated by the following formula:

Illustration: i done this

If “n” is equal to the number of members on a team, we can surmise that the larger the team, the more links there are between individuals on said team.

Illustration: i done this

As team size increases, so does the number of links — exponentially. The more links between individuals, the more costly and complex communication becomes. Larger teams warp ideas and overcomplicate what should be relatively streamlined processes. They make too much noise and serve to distract rather than focus. Essentially, the more communication there is between individuals, the worse the environment for innovation becomes. Smaller teams, on the other hand, foster a sense of safety in their members, creating an environment where provocative questions flourish, fertilizing innovation from the ground, up.

If teams are kept to a sensible size — those small enough to be fed by two pizzas — so are links between individuals, which leads to high levels of autonomy and innovation.

At some point during a project’s lifespan, however, feedback from other coworkers or even external stakeholders might be necessary. Does this mean these individuals will be added to teams? Of course not: Two-Pizza Teams stay Two-Pizza Teams at all points of NEXT’s Business Design process. When it’s time to collect feedback from individuals outside of your team, NEXT will guide contributors through the process. Feedback will then be solicited and collected. Should an idea be unsuccessful, teams will know quickly and cheaply, allowing enough time and resources to revert back to a prior stage in the Business Design process.

Remember, too, that every failure is a discovery in its own right, a chance for improvement, leading you one step closer to the One Big Innovation.

They’re also opportunities to eat more pizza.

Contributing editor: Adam Kohut