Protect Your Organization as Headcount Grows

Defining and managing culture in a small company is a different ball game than in a large one. That’s because according to most studies, an interesting social phenomenon occurs when your organization grows beyond 150 people.

Turns out, 150 (give or take) is the number of true social relationships any one person can manage. This number is often credited to Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at the University of Oxford, who put the range between 100 and 250.

Protect organization headcount

Beyond 150, it becomes difficult to build trust at an individual level. And at this scale, an organization needs to start putting formal policies in place. Thankfully though, large organizations can create other bonds to protect workplace culture and keep people united.

Based on research and the works of others, here are three suggestions to help protect your workplace culture as employee numbers grow

  1. Set a clear direction and check for alignment. Employees who believe in your company direction will invest more of themselves in their work because they know it will make a difference. Make time to create a concise and memorable direction statement. And then check to ensure actions – especially those of senior leaders – align with that direction.
  2. Create smaller teams to improve connection. If you’re facing challenges around communication, direction, and a sense of belonging, look to creating smaller teams where people can feel like they belong.
  3. Understand employee engagement at the local level. Be wary of company-wide, broad-brush engagement efforts. Know what’s helping or hindering engagement at the local level and then address those issues through local leaders. This is especially true at the manager-of-manager level where you might have divisional or site leaders overseeing teams at or around the Dunbar number.

Creating smaller teams with leadership focused on the local level can foster a common sense of purpose, shared values, and a clear mission that will inspire workers to give it their all. Maintaining a true sense of community can be challenging, especially in bigger organizations. But one thing remains clear: A healthy workplace culture with employees who are engaged is better for the bottom line. And this is a truth many Top Workplaces have experienced firsthand.

Laura Brinton is content marketing director at Energage, a Philadelphia-based research and consulting firm that surveyed more than 2 million employees at more than 7,000 organizations in 2019. Energage is The Washington Post’s research partner for Top Workplaces.

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