This is the final part in a series of three posts looking at types of collaborative working:

This final post on collaboration types looks at size. Does size matter? Well, it depends on the context… ūüôā

Collaboration Size

…Size certainly matters in the world of collaboration, and it is rarely considered when deploying collaboration tools. This can lead to the wrong tools being used in the wrong environment.

We are familiar with the typical group sizes – 1:1, 1:few, 1:many. The table below is based on one of the best ways I’ve seen to articulate the differences, as presented by Ross Mayfield at the OurSocialWorld forum held last September.

Ross placed collaboration within the wider ecosystem of networks:

Sample size: 1 12 150 1000+
Type of activity: Individual Collaboration Communication Publishing
Effect: Solo Creative networks Social networks Political networks

It is important to consider the size of group involved when designing a collaboration workspace. Is the group too large for effective collaboration? What percentage of the group are going to be active participants in creating content and completing activities versus consuming the end results? The type of collaboration workspace required for a group of 7 to work together is going to have very different requirements to one required for a team of 20, let alone larger sizes where collaboration decreases and is replaced by communication from the few to the many. The quantity of content and activities will increase as the group size increases, to a point, and then it will decrease (again, with communication of results replacing creative collaboration). These considerations need to be taken into account when designing collaboration tools.

The size effect will also be influenced by the type of group (covered in part 1) and the type of activities (covered in part 2). A large team is likely to be more interactive than a large peer group. The team will contain a diverse set of roles, and that diversity will likely increase with group size, introducing new content and activity requirements (and overhead to coordinate it all). Within a peer group, the roles and knowledge will likely remain similar and the group is more likely to take on a hierarchical perspective (or at least form two or more tiers) as it grows in size, with the most experienced and vocal group members dominating activities and content generation. A growing peer group is likely to head towards a communication medium (social network) far quicker than a team, which is more likely to struggle to maintain a creative network and may be better served by separating into smaller teams as it grows. As always, it’s the context that matters.

Closing note

These three posts have by no means covered all aspects of collaboration. But hopefully they have highlighted the need to put a little thought into the dynamics of the collaboration environment you need to create. It can be very easy, when relying on technology, to stick with the default templates. Going one step further and designing a site to suit the type and size of group who will be participating, and the type of content and activities that will be involved, can go a long way to helping support the true goal of collaboration tools – getting stuff done better than trying to do it solo.


Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. In my experience (as a management consultant & trainer), there's a lot of (possible) room between 1 & 12 : use of subgroups is what distinguishes the expert facilitator; 12 persons can be split in 2 x 6, 3 x 4, etc… each time allowing for a specific (sub)group dynamic.You can't possibly work together in a group of 12; you can work in threes or fours; and you'll be very efficient.Nacherly you'll need to split also the tasks at hand in a practical way.

  2. You're absolutely right. A 'team' workspace will often contain as many as 25 people, but to be effective the actual work will be divided across individuals or small groups of 3 – 4 people, otherwise it ends up just being used to communicate what's going on and becomes part of the third category.

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