Hi everyone,

Are there any general guidelines on how many direct reports are too many?

My particular stats:

  • I work in advertising (creative director)
  • I've worked at my current company for about 2 years
  • We got acquired by a larger company in 2011 (our biggest client)
  • I have 16 direct reports today
  • 6 months ago I had 8 directs
  • 1.5 years ago I had no directs (just leadership role)

Needless to say, our company and creative department has expanded aggressively in the last 12 months. We have become extremely efficient. We are also becoming more and more effective (staff has doubled, but output & revenue quadrupled in past 6 months).

I'm really enjoying the new challenges. I am however starting to think I might be managing too many people. My boss + his boss (GM) strongly believe in keeping the organization as flat as possible.

Any thoughts deeply appreciated - Thanks!

PS. I'm new to the podcast and this forum (fantastic stuff!). Please let me know if I'm breaking protocol with this post in any way.

// martin

ryan_k's picture

If I were in your position I would be thinking about structure too. A flat structure is certainly a nice ideal, but what happens when you are on holidays or on extended leave? which of your current directs would manage the team? If you have no leaders below you with that team size, it would be a signification management effort for your 2IC to stand in for you - depending on what management experience they have behind them.

I would recommend creating 2 small teams of 8 with two managers reporting to you. Then you have the ability to develop new managers and up skill talent for the future, push lower level managerial work to them and at the same time free yourself up for higher level tasks. If your company is on such a growth path and will be adding more employees in the future, then putting this structure in allows you to add another small team later on underneath you quite easily should the need be there - or easily expand the 2 groups of 8 up to 12 or 13 even depending the capability of the manager running each team.

An effective manager following the manager tools principles will be able to still get the work done - and even more - with another layer of management. I would sell it to your boss as future proofing the company for further growth by developing new managerial talent in your area.

nkvd's picture

I would also point out that, at 7 level direct reports per level, an organization still remains quite flat:

Level 1: 1 manager (CEO)

Level 2: 7 managers (SVPs)

Level 3: 49 managers (reporting to SVPs)

Level 4: 343 managers

Level 5: 2407 managers

Level 6: 16807 managers

Level 7: 117649 managers

Unless you're the size of General Electric, I'd say 7 direct reports is about all you'll need, and is a good rule-of-thumb for structuring teams. It also depends on the complexity of work done; e.g., you can generally handle more direct reports effectively if they're not doing substantive-level work; but the more complex their work becomes, the more time you need to spend per each DR.

Ultimately, your job as a manager is not only to manager people, but also to develop them; and since people development is a function of time investment, you can only handle so many DRs before the quality of your own contrbiution as a manager of their effort and as a developer of their talent starts to go down.