Pizzas, HiPPOs and social loafing: fostering innovation and empowering teams

In the realm of team dynamics, the concept of the ‘two-pizza team’ has gained significant attention since it was coined by Jeff Bezos in the early days of Amazon.

Supported by scientific literature including almost 50 years of research from J Richard Hackman, this construct emphasises the business value that can be unlocked by small, nimble teams that can, literally, be fed with just two pizzas.

And new research data from Slalom, conducted internationally across 14,000-plus respondents and 15 countries, has found this preference for connecting with a tight-knit group of between three and seven people remains a consistent motif for people themselves.

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Whichever lens you take to this, the rationale appears compelling.

Efficiency and innovation

One of the primary advantages of adopting the two-pizza-team mentality is the inherent efficiency and speed it promotes.

By keeping teams small, communication channels are streamlined, decision-making becomes more agile, and bureaucratic hurdles are minimised.

With fewer people involved, coordination and alignment become simpler, enabling teams to respond quickly to market demands and changing circumstances.

This speed and efficiency are critical in today's dynamic business environment, where organisations must adapt rapidly to a myriad of external pressures to stay competitive.

However, this construct also has a large part to play in fostering and enabling an innovation mindset throughout a business and within teams themselves.

Large groups can often suffer from innovation paralysis; decision-making becomes complex and the risk of consensus-driven mediocrity increases.

In contrast, two-pizza teams thrive on innovation.

With fewer voices in the room, and a focus on preventing groupthink and HiPPO – the tendency to defer to the 'highest-paid person’s opinion' – individuals are better able to contribute their distinctive perspectives and ideas, challenge those of others and establish an environment that promotes creativity, encourages risk-taking and sparks innovation.

Mitigating social loafing through collaboration and communication

Small, efficiently run teams also foster a culture where each team member has a greater sense of ownership and accountability.

This recognition of unique roles and responsibilities mitigates the effect of ‘social loafing’ – cases where individuals feel like their contributions are seen as less valuable or notable because of the number of people sharing the same task.

In contrast, the two-pizza-team mentality fosters a sense of purpose and value for each team member.

With fewer individuals involved, team members are more likely to feel personally invested in the team's success, as their contributions have a more direct and significant impact.

This enhanced accountability and recognition of individual efforts promote a more engaged and committed workforce.

The smaller size of two-pizza teams also facilitates better collaboration and communication.

With fewer members, teams can build stronger relationships, understand each other's strengths, and leverage their collective expertise effectively.

Communication lines remain open and efficient due to the absence of hierarchical barriers, promoting a free flow of ideas and knowledge-sharing, enabling teams to capitalise on the diverse skills and perspectives of their members.

The two-pizza-team mentality offers numerous benefits that can significantly impact team dynamics and outcomes.

By emphasising speed to value, innovation, ownership, and mitigating social loafing, organisations can harness the power of smaller teams to drive productivity and foster a culture of employee empowerment.

While larger teams may have their place in certain contexts, the two-pizza-team approach has proven to be an effective strategy for unleashing the full potential of team members and achieving remarkable results, and from a people perspective, is proven to be a preference for individuals globally.

Sonali Fenner is managing director of Strategy and Innovation at Slalom