Oxford evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar is most famous for his theory that humans can only maintain personal relationships with about 150 people at any given time, so much so that the figure is referred to as “Dunbar’s number.” Quartz’s Kevin Delaney explores the application of Dunbar’s number to management in the context of growing startups:
“There is no question that the dynamics of organizations change once they exceed about 150 or so,” says Dunbar. “The [Hutterite faith group] deliberately split their communities at this size in order to avoid having to have both hierarchies and a police force. Keeping things below 150 means you can manage the system by peer pressure, whereas above 150 you need some kind of top down, discipline-based management system.”
At a startup, once the staff exceeds 150 people, employees are no longer the single, cohesive, culture-reinforcing unit they were during the company’s earliest days. Staffers become more specialized and entrenched with their teams, which are probably sprawled across an office, perhaps on multiple floors or in several locations.