People And Companies Thrive In Small Groups. Here’s Why.

Dunbar’s number is that magical number that gained prominence during the rise of social media when suddenly, popularity was the number of friends you had on Facebook. Dunbar’s number, which is 150, suggests that it is challenging to build meaningful relationships beyond this number due to how our brains are structured.

While social media may suggest that you have 3000 friends, they are going to range from someone you met an event to your friend you meet every week. More often than not, your core group is likely to be a number lesser than fifteen. A number greater than that makes it difficult to maintain a level of quality in relationships and interactions.

People, Relationships And Decisions

This is backed up by many of our personal experiences too: When you look at social groups, like family and friends or extra-curricular activities in our lives, the big groups always end up organizing themselves into smaller groups. The workplace is no different.

Collective decision making is important, as it ensures that employees feel like they have a stake in the company. But, if you were to try to make a decision with the whole company, it is likely that no decision will ever be made. Instead, it makes sense to scale down the decision making to smaller groups.

The key is to differentiate which decisions require this small group to be permanent (so they become business functions) and which decisions require temporary intervention. In the latter, you gain the advantage of also fostering unity: Employees who would otherwise never interact in their day-to-day functioning, now have an opportunity to form relationships with peers and learn from them.

The Thumb Rule To Scaling Up

When the groups need to be permanent, you can apply the concept of small groups to scaling up the business. You keep the core group and multiply it. For example, you can create new business units with many groups of 10 and suddenly, you have 150 employees split into groups.

Many multinational companies follow this principle, where you have a group of 150 in a country, which is broken down into smaller groups of 10. Obviously, this is not meant to work in isolation and when it goes hand-in-hand with sound management practices, it can be an effective way to scale up.

Why Groups Of 10 Work

Over time, in any organization, it is natural to gravitate towards people who share similar views and thought processes. But when you have different viewpoints, they must be debated and discussed before you arrive at a decision. Smaller groups, allow people to feel empowered and confident; learn to respect each other, and make shared decisions. Working in small groups, really helps people learn to take the opinions and views of others into consideration and focus on listening. It also creates a greater sense of responsibility and engagement since decisions aren’t flowing top down.

In a set-up such as this, even if you are the boss, you cannot force your opinions on the group. With groups being created and dismantled on demand, it brings diversity and wisdom to the decision making process. Importantly, it also distributes risk by ensuring that multiple angles have been addressed before making a decision, unlike having a single person calling the shots - even though it might be faster to do so.

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