Does bigger mean better for Insight teams?

It is often said that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and the same can be said for Insight teams.


Does a bigger Insight team mean better Insight capability?


Does smaller mean more agile?


The latest IMA research reveals that larger Insight teams, those with 20 or more people, rank slightly higher for overall capability than smaller teams.


However, a deeper dive into the results shows that larger teams are not better at everything. In fact, the teams which are the very best at painting big pictures, communicating findings, and aligning their activity to commercial priorities are often quite small.


The latest IMA research highlighting these differences was conducted with the Insight leaders representing nearly 100 companies in the UK, Europe and North America, including Asda, eBay, HSBC, McDonalds, M&S, Nestle and Sky.  


Leaders were asked to rate their teams across the 8 territories of the IMA's Insight Roadmap; generation, knowledge, influence, communication, people, positioning, strategy and commerciality.


In general, larger teams score higher on the transformational areas of positioning, influence, strategy and commerciality. Meanwhile, smaller teams do better on the areas more concerned with the day to day activity; knowledge, new insight generation and communication.


So why do we see these differences? What are the drivers of an Insight team’s capability? What impact does the environment within which an Insight team operates have? Does the size of the organisation or the industry make a difference?


Larger teams align with corporate strategy, but focus can be a challenge


Big and complex organisations, in which large teams often sit, can be both a blessing and a curse. One advantage is that these behemoths usually have a clearly defined corporate strategy, to which the Insight teams can easily align their priorities. 


Big companies also have an unfailing focus on the bottom line, making it not only necessary but expected for Insight to justify how they contribute to the P&L, helping to make their impact clear to those at the top. Large resources also provide more scope for training and development, leading to upskilling of individuals.


However, consistency of delivery can be a challenge for larger teams. It takes time and effort to successfully coordinate multiple projects and ensure that outputs are of consistently high quality. Also, managing the wealth of accumulated Insight knowledge that a larger team generates and ensuring it is used effectively often requires further investment of resource.


Focus is also often more difficult for big teams. If stakeholders sit next to a department of 60 analysts and researchers, they inevitably start asking for more favours. Could you just tell me how many customers we have who…? Can you cut these scores a different way for my presentation? The new CEO needs the latest figures. And yesterday! And this all has an impact on the work a team can get out of the door.


Smaller teams cut through the noise for maximum impact


It’s not altogether surprising then that it is often the smaller teams within our research, sometimes with only a handful of team members, whose leaders rate them as being the very best at not only generating and distilling their insights, but also at positioning and communicating these for maximum impact.


Whilst not exclusively the case, small Insight functions often sit in smaller organisations with flatter structures. It is easier for a team in an organisation with fewer layers to get its voice heard consistently at the highest levels, particularly if its leader has a seat at the top table as is sometimes the case.


As well as being small, the best performing teams in our research were often from the FMCG and Retail sectors. This may also play a part in explaining results, with these teams often working in a more agile way, responding to the fast pace of change in their competitive markets, and learning and growing as a result.


Great things are achieved by Insight teams of all shapes and sizes


What is clear from the nuanced results of our research is that size itself is not the determining factor in the effective performance of any Insight team. Great things are achieved by both large multi-disciplinary teams, and by small one or two-man bands.


Having a small team need not stop you from having a major impact on your company’s bottom line. The important thing is to have a clear Insight strategy and a commercial mindset. Use your resources, however large or small, to generate and communicate insights, and to position Insight in your organisation to achieve maximum impact.


Why not set aside 15 minutes in your diary next week to see how your Insight team compares to the likes of Tesco, British Gas, L&G and Barclays?


The survey only takes 15 minutes for the leader to complete, and provides an Insight leader with a quick but accurate review of their organisation's Insight capability relative to other companies.


Please click here to take part.