Add one more person to your team and you are adding far more complexity than you realize. That person has to communicate with every person on the existing team, and communication lines mushroom with each additional body.
So adding one individual to a group of four means there are now 10 lines of communications, as everyone communicates with each other, compared to six beforehand. Add one extra employee to an eight-person team and communication lines jump from 28 to 36. Adding a newcomer to a 12-person team takes you from 66 to 78 lines of communication.
That's a lot of chances for things to go wrong. So it's where Jason Evanish, founder of Lighthouse, a software tool for managers, believes you need to stop. No manager should be directly supervising more than 12 people.
Indeed, it's best to keep it down to eight to 10 people.
"Because you are a good manager for three or four people, doesn't mean you can handle seven or eight. I saw people who were crashing under the pressure of 12," Mr. Evanish said in an interview. "It doesn't matter the size of the company - it can be a startup or a larger company. That 12-team size crushes you."
As you add people, you gain more diversity and creativity. But it's extra bodies for a manager to keep track of when delegating tasks. It's additional personalities to handle. It's further people to coach and offer feedback. Like the frog in cold water that is put to boil, it can be difficult to sense when the balance tips from acceptable to unacceptable.
"Even good managers get stressed at nine or 10," Mr. Evanish said.
In a blog post, he noted other people had come to a similar conclusions.
Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon.com Inc., has a rule of keeping meetings and teams to the number of people who can share two pizzas. If each person has two slices and the pizza has 8 slices, that means holding it at eight people so nobody goes hungry and the team doesn't choke on its own size.
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