Growing Pains: Life After 150 Employees
When un-related groups of friends forward you the same link within a few days of each other, it is a pretty good sign of how strongly the given post is resonating with various different online communities. Such was the case with the story “Something Weird Happens to Companies When They Hit 150 People.” Written by Quartz Editor-in-Chief Kevin J. Delaney, this essay explains that “for just about any group, the dynamics fundamentally change when the group grows beyond that size.”
While humans are capable of many amazing feats, connecting at scale has clear boundaries. Writes Delaney: “Oxford University evolutionary psychology professor Robin Dunbar has theorized that humans can only really maintain personalized relationships with 150 people. He found this seemingly magic number ‘in the typical community size of hunter-gatherer societies, in the average village size in county after county in the Domesday book, as well as in 18th-century England; it is the average parish size among the Hutterites and the Amish.’ The so-called Dunbar’s number also is found in the size of military companies, and was the basis for the social network Path to limit any member’s sharing to 150 people.”
One of the reasons this essay got forwarded to me various times is that it mirrors lots of our growth experiences at SXSW. While our path to 150+ employees hasn’t been as fast as some startups, this magic number has certainly produced lots of challenges in our organization. To overcome these challenges, we embarked on a fundamental staff re-organization project beginning last spring. Coupled with a new mindset for badge functionality, this re-structuring and re-working of long-standing roles means that the 2017 season has been one of significant transition.
Finally, the “Something Weird” piece features several points of insight and advice from Patty McCord, who spent 14 years at Netflix experimenting with company culture and now runs her own consulting firm. She will be speaking on the Saturday, March 11 panel titled “Work As We Knew It is Over: Jobs As Adventures” at SXSW 2017. Attend this session (plus thousands of others) that will be part of March Magic in Austin by purchasing your badge before prices increase on January 13.
Hugh Forrest tries to write four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts generally cover technology-related trends. When not attempting to wordsmith, he serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW in Austin.