The optimal number of employees in the company according to Dunbar's theory

Service Business

Are you wondering how many maximum employees can be employed in the company to make it function effectively? Many enterprises are forced to reduce the number of employees due to costs, which does not always have a negative impact on their performance. The American anthropologist Robin Dunbar developed a theory that tells us what is the maximum group size in which a person can function effectively. Dunbar's thesis is supported by many examples. Do you have any idea what the optimal number of employees in the company is?

Number of employees in the company - Dunbar's thesis

Robin Dunbar has studied the specificity of permanent social bonds - that is, those that result in longer relationships between individuals creating them. Individuals, because Dunbar, in addition to humans, also studied the bonds formed by certain animals, especially primates. The research allowed him to develop a value that in anthropology is called the Dunbar number after him. Dunbar's number determines the number of lasting bonds a species can enter into. For humans, Dunbar's number is 148. This means that humans are capable of maintaining relationships with 148 other members of their species. This translates to the fact that we perform best in groups of up to 148 (approximately 150) members. The structure of our brain is responsible for all this.

Dunbar's thesis was often commented on and questioned, although the scientist himself gave interesting examples from the time before his announcement of the thesis. First of all, examples from military theory were cited - for a long time the basic tactical unit of ancient Roman troops was a maniple with approximately 150 soldiers. Currently, its counterpart can be found in a company with an average of over a hundred soldiers. About 150 members also included hunting tribes in various parts of the world. There was also a concept that a group of more than 150 members would inevitably split into clans.

The number of employees and the number of Dunbar - examples

Can the number of employees in a company also be conditioned according to Dunbar's thesis? The most cited example is the company founded by Bill Gore. Gore at one point noticed that he did not know the people working for him, and therefore decided that each W. L. Gore & Associates factory would not employ more than 150 people, even if they were to be built side by side. Exceeding this number of employees in one plant, Gore considered a harmful phenomenon, saying that "whenever we reached 150 people, everything started to break down." Dunbar recognized that a workforce of less than 150 at each plant was the reason for Gore's success. To this day, Dunbar's thesis finds supporters in various types of businesses and public institutions - recently it was the Swedish tax office.

How does the Dunbar assumption, sometimes referred to as Rule 150, work, and why should it be so effective in determining the number of employees? As we wrote, the Dunbar number determines the maximum number of people we can create lasting relationships with - and thus, better understand their interests, skills, etc. In companies with less than 150 people, employees know each other personally, know their tasks and roles, and a specific bond develops between them. If they become acquaintances, there is an element of peer pressure. According to psychologists, this peer pressure between colleagues is more motivating for employees than any comments from the supervisor. The existing bond between employees and mutual pressure generate discipline and team loyalty.

What if the number of employees is smaller?

So much the better! It's worth noting that the Dunbar number includes all relationships, not just employee relationships. You should add family, friends from outside of work, etc. For everyone, the number of relationships outside of work is different, and therefore it is not worth "pinning" the number of employees strictly to 150. It must be remembered that this Dunbar number is the upper limit - the company operates efficiently, the smaller the number of employees provided that it is not too low and it does not result in the necessity of additional duties for employees. You have to determine for yourself what number of employees in your company is optimal, taking into account the tasks to be performed and the resources allocated to remuneration.

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, believes that the best team of employees is one that eats two pizzas. In practice, it would be 5 to 7 people, although this is only an assumption. Richard Hackman - a business psychologist - decided that the team works the more effectively, the smaller the number of connections between the people making up such a team. He calculated the number of connections using the formula:

N x (N-1) / 2 = number of links; N = number of team members


If a team of 5 people works on a project, then the number of connections is 10, and when there are 10 people, then the number of connections increases to 45. The greater number of connections means communication, decision-making and organizational difficulties. Experiments by American scientists confirmed that the increase in the number of teams does not have a positive effect on the faster completion of the project, on the contrary.

Dunbar's number and social media

Dunbar developed his thesis in the early 1990s and it is difficult for him to take into account the phenomena related to the functioning of social media. How should we consider the friends we have on Facebook in relation to his theory? Often their number exceeds 150, and where else can you find a place for contacts at work? Dunbar himself claims that the number of real friends with whom you have a relationship is limited to 150, while the rest are the audience. Cameron Marlow, a sociologist, however, points to a different relationship - on average a man, a Facebook user comments and likes the entries of seven people, and chats with four. In the case of women, these numbers are respectively 10 and 8. It can be hypothesized that the numbers presented by Marlow reflect the number of real relationships in the area of ​​social media. Therefore, the impact of social media on the number of employees determined in accordance with Dunbar's thesis is not that significant.