Long Live Small Teams. Why’s That?

Oana Filip
team

We are true believ­ers in the pow­er, mobil­i­ty and nev­er end­ing ambi­tion of small teams. Not because it’s a fan­cy state­ment around the www world nor because we want to start a debate about impos­ing quotes like — Go big or go home.

What we’re try­ing to do is to shed some light into the mul­ti­tude of advan­tages of work­ing in small tribes. Just like we have done for almost 5 years. Dur­ing this lengthy peri­od, we had the chance to exper­i­ment a lot and shape our own path. As a team, as a busi­ness, as a cre­ative design bou­tique.

This sto­ry is writ­ten down thanks to a col­lec­tive effort from the wit­ty guys and girls who work (and have fun) @pix­el­grade. We think it’s essen­tial to make room for everyone’s opin­ions because they’re def­i­nite­ly based on their own back­ground, lifestyle, pas­sions and obses­sions.


Feel free to skim through the fol­low­ing lines in order to bet­ter under­stand what makes a small team a strong stim­u­lus for evo­lu­tion.

By the way, 12 peo­ple shared their insights regard­ing the beau­ty of work­ing in this kind of envi­ron­ment. There’s no one left behind.

Swooooo­ord!

Vlad

In a small team, each mem­ber has the oppor­tu­ni­ty to own his work, to take pride in its impact upon the suc­cess of the whole team. But this is a dou­ble-edged sword. With such pow­er upon the for­tunes of close col­leagues (and many times friends), each team mem­ber needs to com­mit to and live with its fair share of respon­si­bil­i­ty and account­abil­i­ty. This is a whole pack­age, a take it or leave it offer. No slack­ers allowed.

A well-func­tion­ing small team is almost a force of nature. An organ­ism that is both resilient but also extreme­ly flex­i­ble and adapt­able. Free from the over­head and momen­tum of large orga­ni­za­tions, it can make swift changes, take risky paths, all the while being con­fi­dent that it has the agili­ty to rapid­ly reverse course.

A small team will nat­u­ral­ly grow and evolve from its member’s strengths and pas­sions. It’s a place where each indi­vid­ual is encour­aged to bring its best to the table and ignore its weak­ness­es (we all have them no mat­ter how elab­o­rate the mask we build for our­selves). Great small teams have this mag­i­cal abil­i­ty of uplift­ing the one with the right atti­tude to new and sur­pris­ing heights.


Oana

Do you remem­ber the Whiplash movie? For those who don’t have a clue about Damien Chazelle’s dra­ma, the sto­ry is cen­tered around an ambi­tious jazz stu­dent who aims for per­fec­tion.

Well, I still have in mind an elo­quent line from the main char­ac­ter:

”It’s not my tem­po.”

I tru­ly believe it’s essen­tial to find your tem­po, your rhythm and stick to it in order to cre­ate your own path. So, in terms of teams, I’m def­i­nite­ly a fan of the small ones and I have a bunch of argu­ments to write down.

Movie tonight?

First thing first: small teams have a tremen­dous curios­i­ty to dig deep­er and to find bet­ter solu­tions. They don’t apply pro­ce­dures, they cre­ate solu­tions. Sec­ond, of all, they have the guts to dream as big (some­times even more so) as the top indus­try play­ers and to work real­ly hard to make it hap­pen. On top of that, even though it might sound naive, it’s a big deal to keep search­ing for mean­ing in every­thing you do and small teams can achieve that bril­liant­ly.

To sum up, it’s not my tem­po to min­gle with 200+ folks in one big office room, but I love to swing and cook gua­camole for 12 amaz­ing folks who are hap­py to gath­er around the same table.


Ilinca

Let’s sup­pose you would get a table that per­fect­ly fits your small team, every­one is at a fair dis­tance and they have enough space to do their job. Now cov­er the table with some can­vas and get your team work­ing.

Some­times you will take a look at some­one else’s part, even if they’re on the oth­er side of the table (because, hey, they can’t be very far), throw in some sug­ges­tions, receive some advice, get some inspi­ra­tion from Jane, even if she doesn’t do the same thing you do, inspire oth­er peo­ple, watch the progress, adapt to what’s going on on the can­vas, get curi­ous about what Dave has been doing, start a dis­cus­sion, all this while every­body is there, so you get 100% of every­thing, pas­sive or active. Are you not that type? Oh, you will be when the wave starts rolling.

All in all, you have an overview of the whole can­vas, the strengths, weak­ness­es, pas­sions, and needs of your team­mates, all this because you have a small­er table than big teams can afford, whose mem­bers will take a walk just to get a pen­cil from dia­met­ri­cal­ly-opposed-Jes­si­ca. And yet again, big teams learn how to drill holes into the table to fit more peo­ple or buy more tables, but:

  1. Aren’t you going back to small tables?
  2. Aren’t you los­ing focus (buy­ing the tables, drilling the holes)?

This would be enough you might say, but the charm of all this is in hang­ing the can­vas on the wall and the first thing that would pop into mind would be “WE did this!”.

Not for sale, mate!

George

Being part of a small team means hav­ing a bet­ter con­nec­tion to each one of its mem­bers. Hav­ing this con­tact, things are flow­ing smooth­ly and cre­ative solu­tions come nat­u­ral­ly.

We’re get­ting a bet­ter-coor­di­nat­ed sys­tem through much less tra­di­tion­al man­age­ment. Any­one can do what he knows best, and we all get the most out of each mem­ber.


Andrei

In con­trast with a large com­pa­ny (or a team), a small one has the advan­tage of quick­er and bet­ter col­lab­o­ra­tion, the lack of rules for the sake of bureau­cra­cy, and, most impor­tant­ly, the free­dom to choose your own path and make the most of your strengths.

A small team will appre­ci­ate you and your pas­sions, it will encour­age you to con­stant­ly improve your­self and, con­se­quen­tial­ly, your work.

Not just because they care about you, but main­ly because it’s an inter­nal need. The team needs your career to grow because your work has a big impact on its results. Your growth is their win.

A small team won’t let you be bad or weak, they will need inno­v­a­tive and cre­ative work, and if the team does that, iner­tial­ly, you will fol­low.


Radu

Being on a small team gives you the chance of keep­ing in touch with all your col­leagues. I’ve worked (for a short time) in a big com­pa­ny but on your break, you always knew that the bud­dies that will come with you are “the boy from the left cor­ner” and “the one across the hall”. It was a real chal­lenge to try to plan a team game of foot­ball or bas­ket­ball. Not cool.

In con­trast, a small team fos­ters and trea­sures good com­mu­ni­ca­tion and deep under­stand­ing. The best part is that the job is not the only place where you com­mu­ni­cate and work togeth­er, but, whether you want or not, “soon­er or lat­er”, a lit­tle (or big­ger) friend­ship will be involved. I think that this is the whole point, know­ing and evolv­ing next to each oth­er, right?

Cof­fee lovers FTW!

Cristi

What is a small team? A small team may seem like it’s less but in fact, it’s more.

In a small team, every­thing is based on trust. Trust that one must first give but also receive.

Every team mem­ber should be as impor­tant as any oth­er in the deci­sion-mak­ing process, thus reject­ing opaque­ness and embrac­ing trans­paren­cy.

Anoth­er great thing is the feel­ing of know­ing the ones you work with. Get­ting to con­sid­er them friends, not cowork­ers. Peo­ple are every­thing in a small team and they can cre­ate a laid-back atmos­phere that would lead you into an “I’m doing my best cre­at­ing stuff with my friends and enjoy­ing myself” mind­set, not in an “I am work­ing” mind­set.


Razvan

Being part of a small team with no real man­age­r­i­al hier­ar­chy is def­i­nite­ly a good place to find your­self at any giv­en point in space and time. It’s not the fact that you know all of you col­leagues’ names, but the fact that you know their strengths, their needs, when to give a help­ing hand or, the oth­er way around, when and who to ask for help.

I don’t think one’s sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty has any­thing to do with the size of the agency or the team they are involved in. But there’s a help­ful lot of free­dom for every indi­vid­ual in the devel­op­ment process and a nice and ful­fill­ing sense of own­er­ship when the prod­uct gets shipped.

Nonethe­less, let’s not for­get that small teams don’t need Team Leads, Project Man­agers, no sta­tus updates, no meet­ings, no use­less con­fer­ences, and main­ly no one else to please oth­er than your­self. This way each mem­ber of the team can have total con­trol of his time, focus and effort man­age­ment.


Serban

There’s no “Hey you, the guy over there!’” in a small team. Here, every­body knows your name, and more impor­tant, who you real­ly are.

You have a bet­ter sense of affil­i­a­tion, and the deci­sions aren’t tak­en by some BIG BOSS, but rather by you and your guys, the one, and only crew.

In a small team you have that gen­uine sense of grow­ing, the feel­ing of walk­ing on a shared path to a com­mon goal.

At the same time, you devel­op your oth­er sides as well: you learn to lis­ten, what it takes to be a good men­tor, you learn to be respon­si­ble.

The joy of work­ing in a small team can’t be replaced by a cor­po­rate envi­ron­ment, that’s obvi­ous, but what is more impor­tant is that in a small team you feel that every­body cares, and is always will­ing to help you.

Every sin­gle day.

Alin

The thing I appre­ci­ate most about work­ing in a small team is the feel­ing of belong­ing. With this comes a good deal of respon­si­bil­i­ty because every­thing you do influ­ences the entire team, bal­anced by the intrin­sic moti­va­tion to do your best for the good of the unit.

In a small team, you can not hide behind the wall. Every­body knows you as you are — they know your strengths, your pas­sions but also your weak­ness­es. You are encour­aged to act where you are the best.

Last­ly, a small team can not lose pre­cious time with pro­to­cols or point­less inter­nal rules, com­mu­ni­ca­tion is straight and trans­par­ent, so every­one can focus on pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and con­tin­u­ous improve­ment.


Robert

When it comes to small teams, in my mind the term “small” goes hand in hand with “easy”. It is eas­i­er to com­mu­ni­cate with oth­er team mem­bers, eas­i­er to under­stand each oth­er and most impor­tant­ly to help each oth­er. I believe a small team is more like a small car, which feels pret­ty handy and com­fort­able in traf­fic with­out caus­ing much incon­ve­nience to oth­ers.

But like a car, pret­ty much every com­po­nent in that car is impor­tant in order to make the ride smooth and enjoy­able.


Alex

You won­der what a small team is? Let’s go this path: imag­ine a small team as two wolves. The first is a big bad wolf, which rep­re­sents the fear of tri­al, fail­ure and all the bad habits we as peo­ple man­i­fest with­out the right men­tor. The sec­ond wolf is the bright one, which rep­re­sents suc­cess, tri­al by error, team­work and the most impor­tant, con­fi­dence. Won­der why we strive every time for suc­cess? We feed the right wolf.


That’s us. From top to toe. This is the engine that pro­vides us pow­er, ener­gy and a lot of dri­ve. This is why we suc­ceed at improv­ing our skills. This is how we have the guts to build and spread amaz­ing Word­Press themes into the world.

Keep in mind at least some of the key­words from this puz­zle and ask your­self if you’re on the right track. Allow your­self to find the tribe that fits your val­ues and makes you a bet­ter per­son both at an inti­mate and pro­fes­sion­al lev­el.

Oana Filip
Oana Filip

Digital storyteller @Pixelgrade and community builder for creative industries. A true believer in the power of making the world a better place.