MIT Sloan, Research Paper No. 4689-08
Subcommittees and subgroups are critical to dividing and completing group tasks. But what is the best way to divide a larger group into smaller teams? This study examines teams made up of geographically dispersed subgroups. The experiment used 62 teams of six undergraduates. Each six-person team was then broken down into subgroups of different sizes with members on different campuses. The researchers tasked each team with writing a collaborative report on a broad academic topic. The authors examined the effects of different subgroup sizes and configurations (for example, groups of 3+3, 2+3+1, or 5+1) on team performance. They found that teams with subgroups of unequal sizes exhibited higher levels of intra-team conflict, had greater problems with team identity, and were less coordinated than teams with subgroups of equal size. The exception to that rule was that isolated team members — those who worked alone from home, for instance — worked well with geographically dispersed subgroups. They tended to be more efficient, had no issues of ownership, and helped coordinate the efforts of other subgroups.
Managers should pay special attention to the way they divide a team into subgroups and note that equally sized subgroups tend to perform better than subgroups of differing sizes.