The geometry of communication

The more people added to a team or project, the more lines of communication get added. Eventually, managing this many lines of communication becomes impossible and things start to get inefficient or need management structures built. Let’s look at the number of lines of communication for different size teams where everyone is free to talk to everyone.

2 people = 1 line

3 people = 3 lines.

4 people = 6 lines

5 people = 10 lines

6 people = 15 lines

7 people = 21 lines

In an ideal world, a team of 6 would be able to complete a project 2X faster than a team of 3. However, that ignores the communication aspect of coordination. 3 people have 3 lines of communication, not much to get lost, but 6 people have 15 lines of communication. Much can get lost in that web. You’ll likely have people sitting around waiting for information they need, and while pure horsepower may make up for some of this inefficiency, it’s not going to be exactly what the numbers indicate on paper.

When putting a team together it’s a good idea to think through the lines of communication of the team, and how that will flow. If you don’t, you’re likely not going to be as efficient as possible.