Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “This image from StackOverflow shows the rapid complexity that arises when your team or small group exceeds 10 people.”
by Lighthouse: A Blog About Leadership & Management, 7/4/15.
…As your team grows, it becomes geometrically more complex to manage your team. As this image from StackOverflow below shows, every person you add to a team adds many more lines of communication, making everything harder for your team. And as a manager, you’re caught in the middle of this. As your team grows, there are more tasks to delegate and outcomes to manage, more communication issues to navigate, and more interests and motivations to consider. As those issues build up, it then becomes easy to have soft skills slip. Unfortunately, it’s exactly then, when you don’t give everyone the attention, feedback, and coaching they need, you all lose. Your team can easily slip into disorder or simply resentment for you as you break promises, forget what matters to them, and struggle under the growing stress.
The breaking point: 10-12 direct reports
We’ve had managers of all levels of experience and team size use Lighthouse to help them manage and motivate their teams and the common pattern we’ve seen is managers struggle most with more than 10-12 reports. It’s at 10-12 people that the complexity and demands become too great for even a well-trained, experienced manager. Just look at the diagram above and how a team growing from 6 to 10 people causes the lines of communication to grow from 15 to 45 (and 66 by employee #12!). But don’t take my word for it, here’s what some experts have said:
- Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, has a “2 Pizza Rule” which really translates to ~8 people, since a pizza is normally cut into 8 slices and 2 slices per person is a reasonable amount.
- Michael Lopp, author of Rands in Repose, uses the formula 7 +/- 3, which crucially takes into account how much time you could be committed to in 1 on 1s with everyone on your team.
- Tomas Tunguz, VC at RedPoint Ventures deep dives into the concept from many sources to conclude “roughly 7″ and explores how “Span of Control” and “Span of Responsibility” impact it.
The consensus appears to be that double digit team sizes are generally a sign of trouble for a manager. So what do you do? Start developing leaders on your team.