Strength in numbers?


I’m sure you are familiar with the idea that the more individuals you have committed to a cause; the more powerful your actions or contributions toward the cause will be. A conversation with a colleague got me thinking about this. He was reflecting on the administrative flaws of his previous employer. They would set a plan in action towards a goal and always come up short, time and again, reallocating resources for other projects. This issue transcends time, sectors, and project/organization size.

In my experience with a larger institution, I found the problem to be too many leaders. In any large group, there are many leaders that have goals and dreams for their role in the group: a department head drives for more resources, a leader in public relations will push for a revamp in public image, a software engineer new to a project might push for a clean start to replace an existing code-base in favor of a particular coding paradigm, etc. Think of the organization as a wheel and rather than having all the spokes support it evenly, the leadership surplus can result in a wonky wheel because some spokes are going for more wight than they can handle.

On the other hand, I’ve come across the opposite problem with several start-ups and small-group projects: no leadership. The issue in this case seems to be that the number is so small that, chances are, everyone is personally involved with the group members. This means that there are personal implications to a group members behavior, if someone takes on the role of leader they might offend their peers and adversely affect the group. This is typically the case in organically formed groups where roles are not assigned. Oddly enough, I’ve also experienced the “too many leader” tug of war as a result of a leader sprouting after the “no leader” problem in a small group.

So the question becomes: Is there a magic number for a successful organization? [Note: Obviously, this is not a rule or the end-all-be-all in terms of group structure, with the existence of so many successful businesses and organizations of all sizes.] I think the key is scalability, as in most things. Start small and organized with the vision of what’s to come. Similar to the beginnings of a code project or in constructing of a building: you need to start with a plan, create a base or scaffolding, and iterate while increasing your fidelity or resources towards your goal.