Numbers Game

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pick a number

How many friends do you have?

According to Professor Dunbar the number must be 150 or less. His research apparently shows we can’t maintain more relationships or friends than that in real life, and our online behaviour reflects that. I don’t think anyone things that Ashton Kutcher has a deep relationship with his 4,400,000 Twitter followers, or that Kim Kardashian’s 720,000 Facebook friends are all that close. But 150 seems way low.

It turns out that the number is derived by watching other primates and correlating their social network size to the volume of the neocortex region of their brain, and extrapolating that for humans. The number arrived at was 148, or anything between 100 and 230. He then looked at the size of villages over history and contemporary networks and seem to observe a natural limit in that range.

It’s interesting from an organisational point of view, I have worked in organisations of very different sizes and know something Mintzberg’s theory on organisational design. I’ve seen how as organisations grow they tend to hit some sort of natural limit at around 200 people. One company I worked for at as it hit 280 staff found that suddenly policies  and processes were needed where informal structures used to work.

Another company I know of has structured their formation documents so that they will be forced to split once they get above 150, their company culture is so important to what they do and they know it would be so hard to maintain it above that number.

Company culture does link to size and organisational structure, and maintaining it – or surviving a transition – is vitial.

But there could be a lower limit, I spoke to a guy last week who works in an “adhocracy“, their company is growing raising concerns about maintaining the company culture as they grow; to twelve colleagues.

image Spiekermann House Numbers /Stephen Coles/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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