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Small Stable Teams

Research has shown that smaller, stable teams with the same team members outperform other configurations.

Pain Points

  • Constantly training new teams and new team members is expensive and unproductive
  • Any given team is always lacking some particular expertise
  • There’s a lack of institutional memory; no growth in domain expertise in the team
  • No team knowledge of historical bugs and releases (and you’re constantly re-discovering issues)


  • Organizational/tribal memory increases and is more resilient to individuals leaving
  • Higher performing teams
  • Increased team trust
  • Improved turnover rate
  • Lower training costs (stable teams retain domain and tech expertise)

A commercial study (online at, registration required) from the vendor Rally found that dedicating teams members to one team doubles productivity. Keeping a team together over the long term shows a 60% gain.

Psychologically, people working in a smaller group setting tend to be more open, transparent, and trusting than those working in a large group.

What Does it Look like?

A small team is something less than ten or twelve people maximum, with an optimal size of perhaps closer to seven people. A stable team retains the same members over the life of the project work, and possibly beyond. The team probably knows each other’s lives outside of work, families, etc., and have lunch together. They’re more than “just” co-workers.

Warning Signs

  • Pulling developers from one team to work on another on a regular basis
  • Treating programmers like meat widgets that can be deployed on any project
  • Large teams of dozens of people
  • No one on this team was on this team last year

How To Fail Spectacularly

  • Small teams that are dissolved regularly
  • Breaking up successful teams to scale their success

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