I've wondered what the "optimal" team size is of direct reports to manage. I read a Fortune article a while back that stated some research suggested a team of 6 to 7 is the best. Except for short term projects, I've never managed a team that small. The smallest group was around 10 and I've managed up to 24. I can definitely say 24 is way too big. There's no way to keep track, coach, manage, feedback, one on one, etc. that many people. Personally I've felt under 14 was best for me. Any thoughts out there?


Mark's picture
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I have an answer, but let's agree that suggesting that there really is an optimal size, that applies to all managers, regardless of experience, industry, etc, is like saying the average family in the U.S. has 2.6 kids.

The Fortune article actually said 5.7, I think, which surprised me, because for years, it's been thought to be around 8, which is the size of a small squad in the military. (And please don't take offense but the world's militaries know a thing or two about effectiveness of teams based on size.)

Look, it depends on the manager. I personally think the Fortune # is wrong and terribly misleading, in that it implies that's what a manager's span of control should be.

I also think 10 is too small, because MY point is that most managers are doing all the wrong things anyway. I'd think 15 is about right for most MANAGERS, because of corporate structures that keep wildly aberrant behavior under control, and it would reduce the chances for micromanagement.

I know many managers who can handle 24 easily, and I know some I wouldn't give more than 8.

And it better grow over time, thus eliminating the whole point of the optimum.


tplummer's picture

Hmm. Yes, there are way too many factors to determine an optimal number. I don't know why I didn't think of that. But, I was expecting you to set some sort of general upper bounds! You certainly couldn't do weekly one on ones with 100 people! Now I understand you may have span and control of a 100 people when factoring your direct's directs. Thanks for the food for thought.

stevhall's picture
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Hi, I appreciate the comments on this topic. Wanted to see if anyone has some experience like the one I am in now. I am a manager of a second-level engineering operations and support team for a telecommunications firm. All of my team are telecom engineers (salaried). I have 24 direct reports, 22 who are full time employees, and 2 who are contract employees. In addition, my team of 24 work with 8 engineers who are located outside the US, who perform the same function. Those 8 engineers report to a line manager who is mostly administrative (he has 50 direct reports), so I am the one who gets questions about their work. I feel very fortunate about every person on the team and feel that every team member produces quality results (I inherited most of them and feel the hiring managers did a good job). I am currently having bi-weekly one on ones with my 24 directs , and monthly one on ones with the 8 engineers who are outside the US. I have the one on ones on their schedule which means I have some of them outside my usual work schedule. I would like to do the one on ones more often but I don't see a way to do this, as I typically have 3-4 one on ones on average per day). Any thoughts or comments on situations like this?