What Cream, The Police and Other Bands Prove About Groups

Forming groups is never easy (especially if you're a rockstar), but there are ways to make it work.

Forming groups is never easy (especially if you’re a rockstar), but there are ways to make it work.

What if there was a simple ingredient to help your group work better and get stuff done like never before? While rock stars don’t toil in offices or meeting rooms like most of us, bands can offer some valuable lessons in teamwork once you dig beneath the larger-than-life personalities involved.

At first glance, there are so many factors attributing to any group’s success that it seems impossible to pin down a single commonality.

For Cream, who hit it big during the 1960s, success came from being ahead of the times. They’re credited as being the first successful supergroup. The trio of established and well-regarded musicians put aside their egos to make great music. Of course, having a guitarist of Eric Clapton’s caliber also helps.

For The Jam, it was their embracing of musicians before them that helped them find success. The punk rock band from southern England took a decidedly non-punk approach to their music by taking inspiration from rock and R&B sounds that came decades prior. While they never made it big in the U.S., they became legends in the U.K.

The Police found worldwide success by masterfully fusing the distinct styles of its three members. A combination of reggae, jazz and punk eventually turned them into one of the biggest bands in the world.

What these bands all have in common, aside from starting in England, is that they were all trios. Having only three members in a band isn’t unheard of, but it isn’t the norm as most bands go bigger than that. Research has shown that small, odd-numbered groups are the perfect size for finding success whether you’re on stage or in the office.

The Power of Three (or Five, or Seven)

We’ve all probably found out the hard way what happens when too many decision makers try to reach a consensus — and it isn’t pretty. Instead of thinking big and trying to involve as many people as possible, we need to think small.

There’s plenty of research on how many members are needed to create the optimal team, but many agree that teams consisting of odd numbers between three and seven are ideal for productivity and decision making. Having only two members isn’t enough to generate meaningful social interactions, while more than seven is just too many people to be effective.

When creating a group, it’s important to ensure that the members can bounce ideas off each other and speak openly about solutions. Keeping the group small ensures that everyone is involved and nobody can sit back passively during the process.

Too Big to Fail?

Going beyond seven members can be problematic, according to research. Each additional member beyond the initial seven lowers the effectiveness of decision making by 10 percent. Groups of such a large size can rarely come to any sort of meaningful agreement. Within that large team, smaller teams are unofficially formed and progress slows down dramatically.

Amazon uses something called the two-pizza rule when deciding the maximum size for a meeting. The group is simply too big if they need more than two pizzas for a meal.

The Tie Breaker

So keeping a group size between three and seven is important. It’s just as crucial to have an odd number of people to ensure that decisions don’t come to a standstill. With an odd number of members, there’s always a tiebreaker to push the decision-making process forward and move on to the next task.

Without that crucial tiebreaker, ideas can be dwelled on for far too long and never come to a satisfying conclusion. Time is wasted and tensions flare when team members get stuck on an issue. That’s why, for example, there’s an odd number of justices on the Supreme Court (at least when it’s full).

The decisions that come out of an odd-numbered group might not be perfect, but they will be lead to higher productivity and much-needed consensus.

Size is Just the Start

Your parents may have told you not to look up to rock stars as heroes. That same advice applies here. While a number of trios have gone on to accomplish great things, bands like Cream and The Police went through some ugly breakups caused by anger, rivalry and fundamental disagreements. The Police’s breakup was especially nasty and is considered one of the messiest in rock history.

Obviously, we don’t want our groups to have a dramatic falling out in the vein of Sting and co. While the size of the group can help out greatly with decision-making and increasing productivity, it’s still important for good management and genuine teamwork to take place. Forming a small, odd-numbered group isn’t the remedy for underlying problems. It will, however, help your group get things done.

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