The ‘Two-Pizza’ Rule for Teams

Per the research of the late J. Richard Hackman:

The ideal size for most working teams: 4-6 people. No work team should have more than 10 members. Team performance problems exponentially increase as team size increases.

Per Bob Sutton:

Size begets complexity. Complexity begets greater ‘cognitive load.’ As teams grow in number:

  • maintaining relationships becomes more difficult
  • members spend more time in coordination chores and less time doing the work
  • members must divide their attention among more colleagues

Per Sutton, Intuit’s best practice around development teams is to have no more than the number of people who can be fed by two pizzas. In addition to providing a memorable tip for team effectiveness, Intuit simultaneously confirms why teams in the Midwest tend to consist of fewer members than teams on the east coast.

Source: Bob Sutton, ‘Why Big Teams Suck.’

Positive Thinking – Boon or Bane?

Contrary to popular belief, positive thinking might harm you more than it helps.

Oettingen & Mayer prompted 80-odd students to rate the extent to which they experienced positive thoughts about graduating from school and finding a job. Following-up two-years later, researchers found the same students who indicated positive thoughts were less successful (applied to fewer jobs; received fewer offers; earned less money).

Heather Barry Kappes posits that positive thinking may ‘dull the will to succeed.’

More recent research suggests a possible connection between expressions of positive outlook in mainstream media and later results. Sevincer, et al examined twenty-one inaugural addresses of US Presidents. They found that Chiefs who “waxed optimistic about the future saw a rise in unemployment and a slowdown in economic growth during their terms in office.”

Oliver Burkeman observes that “Ceaseless optimism about the future only makes for a greater shock when things go wrong; by fighting to maintain only positive beliefs about the future, the positive thinker ends up being less prepared, and more acutely distressed, when things eventually happen that he can’t persuade himself to believe are good.”

What does this mean for leaders, especially vis-a-vis the prevailing confidence in positive psychology?


From, Adam Alter’s, “The Powerlessness of Positive Thinking.”


Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking (Faber & Faber, 2013)

Gabriele Oettingen & Doris Mayer, “The Motivating Function of Thinking About the Future: Expectations Versus Fantasies,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 83, No. 5) 2002: 1198-1212.

Sevincer, et al, “Positive Thinking About the Future in Newspaper Reports and Presidential Addresses Predicts Economic Downturn,” Pscyhological Science (25.6) 2014.


Leaders must leverage networks

The power of social networks is not a new subject. In fact, we’ve been talking about social networks (offline social networks, at least), for centuries.

Consider, for example, this ancient proverb, which underscores how attributes or behaviors can transfer from one to another: “Live with one who prays, and you will pray. Live with one who sings, and you will sing.” Or perhaps you prefer Aesop, whose fable of “The Belly and the Members” demonstrates how a single member of a network can have a disproportionate amount of influence on the whole network. And then, there’s his fable of “The Father and his Quarreling Sons,” which emphasizes the ever-popular sentiment, “united we are strong, divided we are weak”  (or, the more modern alternative: “united we stand, divided we fall”).

With the advent of social media, the public consciousness seemed to marvel at this novel phenomenon. Gradually, as online networks proliferated, we began to realize that they mirrored what has been happening offline for ages (e.g., it wasn’t the “what” that was new, but the “how.”). Online networks amplified and diversified how we create and sustain our connections with others. These digital manifestations of our physical networks served to deepen our awareness of the power of networks. And we still have much to learn.

In this vein, Nicholas Christakis’ TED Talk on “The hidden influence of social networks” provides some compelling insights and provocations. The purpose of his undertaking was to “[understand] human networks…how they form and operate” to better understand human activities and experiences. In this pursuit, he and his collaborators found that the stronger the connection between two people, the greater the probability certain attributes might be transferred from one to another. The initial subject of his study was obesity, but the same principles held for subsequent studies which focused on emotion.

This has important implications for today’s leaders. If a physical condition, such as obesity, can pass through a distributed social network as readily as emotions, like happiness and sadness, how could we possibly ignore the power of networks to advance–or derail–our cause?

As the modern work environment grows increasingly complex and distributed, the simple fact is that individuals rely on networks to navigate their organization and execute their work more than before. CEB (formerly, Corporate Executive Board), nods to this fact in a recent white paper entitled, “Rise of the Network Leader.” They posit that today’s work environment requires a new leadership style, which they dub “network leadership.” They pose some interesting questions and observations, but the data they provide is particularly intriguing. In studying the performance of more than 3,000 leaders, they found that 74% of leaders indicate the number of stakeholders they interact with has increased (duh, but good to have the data) and that 70% of leaders lack the flexibility to effectively create and lead social networks. That last bit is key: it suggests a widespread performance gap in which leaders are unable to access and leverage one of the most valuable resources in their organization — the people!

As leaders, we seek to accomplish our goals with and through others. As the ways in which we accomplish the “with” and “through” evolve, we must also.

A network-savvy leader knows that networks ought to be cultivated, fostered, and leveraged in an intentional way. Christakis observes that “the pattern of connections among people confers upon people different properties. It is the ties between people which makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.” That the architecture of our ties has such importance cannot be overstated and seems to mirror an observation David Allen once made regarding our personal leadership style, when he wrote, “How we are who we are can make a transformational difference in our jobs, our careers, and our lives; and that’s something that can be learned and practiced-not simply something we innately possess.”

So, how do we enhance our ability to lead (and leverage) networks? I admire the work of Dave Logan and his collaborators, who pioneered the concept of “tribal leadership” (Ted Talk | Wikipedia | Website). But really, if there’s one call to action from all of this, its to begin thinking about and engaging with our networks in an intentional manner.

At the conclusion of his talk, with the tenor of a benediction, Christakis emphasizes his belief that “if we realize how valuable social networks are, we’d spend a lot more time nourishing them and sustaining them.” For leaders who wish to be successful in today’s work environment, this is absolutely true.

Time for Strategy

Are your decisions based more on reflex or reflection? This may be one key to becoming a more strategic leader, according to a post by Liane Davey at the HBR blog.

Reflecting on how you go about your work, you may find that you’re too busy to allow for much intentional reflection on decisions. Davey provokes insight (and a little guilt), when she knowingly asks, “What percentage of your workweek is spent in meetings? How much of the time left over is a mad dash to respond to emails, make phone calls, and do some actual work?”

A moment’s reflection on Davey’s question likely delivers you to the same conclusion she makes: “Possibilities are unlimited; time, money, and resources are not.” Consequently, these three variables are our most significant leverage points. And while not all of us may have much oversight over money and resources (in our personal or professional lives, it may seem), time is a universal variable — and a universal choice.

Psychopathy + High-Potential = CEO

In The Wisdom of Psychopaths, research psychologist Kevin Dutton highlights some psychopathic qualities which are frequently billed as essential to corporate leadership, e.g.:

  • Persuasiveness
  • Beguiling charm
  • Focus under pressure

In stressful situations, most people become agitated. Psychopaths, however, tend to calm during “moments of heightened tension.” This emotional self-control may be one of the enviable qualities we should strive to emulate.

This comparison prompts us to consider: is psychopathy a good thing in business leadership? Should we strive to emulate its characteristic qualities or re-evaluate our rubric for a successful business leader?

From, Do psychopaths make good CEOs?


The Icarus Paradox

A Kellogg School of Management study underscores that the more flattery we receive, the more we allow our self-impressions to be inflated. According to this study, this holds true for CEOs and constitutes “the Icarus Paradox:”

  • “’What we are saying,’” Stern explains, ‘is that with CEO status, the greater the status, the more flattery and opinion conformity will be directed towards the CEO. And the more flattery and opinion conformity directed at the CEO, the greater the CEO’s self-enhancement.'”
  • “The results showed that CEOs subject to flattery were more likely to believe themselves to be better leaders and more adept at strategy. Firm performance data, however, did not bear that out. Firms with flattered CEOs were less likely to change strategy when company performance dipped.”
  • Stern and his colleagues call this the “Icarus Paradox.” “The high levels of flattery and opinion conformity that high-status CEOs receive can foster self-enhancing cognitions that lead them to become over-confident in their strategic decisions and in their ability to correct performance problems with the current strategy,” the authors write.

From, “Flattery’s Dark Side – Why you may want to consider how much you compliment.”

Promoting Women (Promoting Themselves)

Women are not promoted as frequently or as far as men are. How much of this is attributable to circumstance, prejudice, or women’s preference?

“Women who are offered promotions ‘generally feel they need to know 80% to 90% of their current job before they feel ready to step up into a new role,’ she says. But if you are smart and knowledgeable, “probably somewhere closer to 40% to 50%” is all that you need. Men, on the other hand, feel no such constraints.”

“The Journal report was based on the comments of a task force set up to study the obstacles that women continue to face in the workplace. According to a McKinsey study quoted in the article, women get 53% of entry level jobs and ‘make it to ‘the belly of the beast’ in large numbers.’ But then ‘female presence’ drops sharply, ‘to 35% at the director level, 24% among senior vice presidents and 19% in the C-suite.'”

From, Do Women Shy Away From Promotions?