Group size to the power of one

Nancy White’s post drew my attention to the important points that Chris Corrigan makes about group size.

He  suggests that groups should be made up of one, three of five people for creative purposes (odd numbers), and made up of two or four people for “settling” purposes (even numbers). There should never be more than six people in a small group because  introverts begin to withdraw when groups get to that size and the group then begins to lose the benefits of diversity.

According to Chris, the reason smaller groups work well is because there are more “edges”. The more edges you have, the more diversity you create. The more diversity you create the more resourcefulness and sources you have. This is a principle from nature about how things combine better “when we have more ways of offering ourselves to each other”.

The concept of a group of one sounds odd in our world governed by groupthink. But it does seem reasonable to start counting group size with the number “1”. Not only does that include those who work best alone in the common enterprise, but it also acknowledges the creative tensions of intra-personal interaction. The pendulum is swinging back to recognise that “groups of one are the best way to innovate” and that larger groups are not a “good place for generating innovation”.

I often hear fellow ministers talking about the power of small groups. What we forget is that groups can be as small as one. Already congregations and organisations are made up of small groups without anyone having to try to engineer them. Rarely do the groups of one have their voice heard which means that they may not realise their responsibility or potential.

Extraversion has been the order of the day and the assumption is that we get our creative energy “out there”, through collaboration and with developed “people skills”. But, according to research by psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (you’d have to be broad shouldered to have that name on the back of your football shirt!) and Gregory Feist, most creative people in many fields are often introverted. They need solitude as a catalyst to innovation.

Susan Cain is critical of “groupthink” in a New York Times article. She quotes Eysenk’s observation that introversion fosters creativity by “concentrating the mind on the tasks in hand, and preventing the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to work”.  She refers to research which suggests that group performance gets worse as group size increases and quotes organisational psychologist Adrian Furnham. “Evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups. If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.” Picasso’s take on it was that “without great solitude, no serious work is possible”.

PS Susan Cain is author of Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking

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