a–f, The decline of small teams. a, b, Evolution of team-size distributions over time for WOS articles (a) and US patents (b). The distributions skew towards large teams over time. c, d, Average team size of articles increased from 2 to 5.5 between 1954 and 2014, and for patents team size increased from 1.7 to 2.7 between 1976 and 2014. e, f, Percentage of small teams (in which the number of team members m ≤ 3) decreased from 91% to 37% for articles, and from 94% to 74% for patents during the period of observation. g, The ripple effect. We select 2,640 small teams (m ≤ 3) from WOS articles that are among the top 1% in number of citations they received, as well those among the top 1% within the Sleeping Beauty index distribution24. We analyse the citations to these articles and find that the fraction of large teams (m > 3) increases over time. The red curve shows the average fraction of citations from large teams and the pink area spans one standard deviation. The selected 2,640 small-team articles are eventually cited by 657,946 large-team articles.