Organisations today are challenged to meet increasing customer demands and expectations, but with fewer people and at a lower cost. And if you work in one of these organisations, you’ve probably experienced successive waves of change to re-organise and reduce costs even further. Very few organisations manage change well, which increases the levels of uncertainty, anxiety, and stress across the workforce.
The first organisations were teams of hunter-gatherers, who lived and worked together in small nomadic groups. People played different roles and brought together diverse knowledge and experience, so the whole was greater than the sum of the parts, which is one of the fundamental reasons why we have organisations. There are still hunter-gatherer tribes, like the Yanomani in Brazil and Bushmen in Botswana working the same way today. We were hunter-gatherers for around 90% of our history, living in extended social groups of up to 150 trusted or well-known people. The anthropologist Robin Dunbar demonstrated that humans can comfortably maintain up to 150 relationships. If the number increases beyond 150, we lose the capacity to really know and trust people well enough. This research also supports good practice for organisational design. For instance, the Gore-Tex waterproof clothing company found that they were less productive when more than 150 people worked together at the same location. Like a “golden ratio” for how people work well together, Gore-Tex uses the principle to make sure that “everyone knows everyone”; improving social cohesion and making the company more effective. This helps to explain why some large organisations in the past, who were ignorant of this principle, tended to use a command-and-control style of management, which assumes that people cannot be trusted, so need to be coerced by authority to carry out a task. Not only that, some leaders saw people as little more than machines, as exemplified by Henry Ford when he said, “Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?”
Share on Follow on