Why Organizations Struggle with Scale

Organizations suffer when more or fewer employees participate in a process than the process was originally designed for. This pain manifests in many ways:

  • Levels of hierarchy that make it impossible to make fast decisions

  • Siloed teams that don’t share information

  • Mergers that result in duplicated roles

At the root of all these issues, though, is a failure of scale—the failure to account for the complexity that adding people to a team creates. And make no mistake: adding people exponentially increases complexity. The more people you have in an organization, the more relationships you have to manage. In other words:

At 7 total people, your company is actually a bundle of 21 relationships. At 15, that’s 105 relationships. At 35 people, your business is the cumulation of 595 relationships.


You may be familiar with Dunbar's Number: it's the concept that our monkey brains can't keep track of more than 150 relationships. The truth is, that's being generous. We can't even have more than four people in any one conversation before groups start to splinter off.

But this complexity doesn’t mean that organizations should focus exclusively on the number of people involved. Traditionally, companies have attempted to respond to market growth or contraction by adding, subtracting, or otherwise restructuring people. Meanwhile, the processes by which people get work done are largely ignored. The reason for this is simple: people are easy to measure; process is hard to quantify.


To maximize team effectiveness, organizations must first design processes that achieve desired outcomes, and only then change their structure. That’s where NOBL comes in: our experts in design thinking and organizational psychology have identified the key milestones that every company reaches as they scale, as well as the critical processes that companies must implement at each milestone.


We applied this methodology to one of our recent, world-famous clients. They initially asked us to evaluate the team and determine if they had "the right people in the right roles," with the goal of restructuring the department. A quick analysis, though, revealed that the department had no standard ways of working—process varied not only between teams, but even from project to project! We worked directly with the teams to design and iterate on key processes to encourage collaboration and innovation. Once the team adopted these new practices, it became clear where more support was needed and what was overstaffed, and the department was able to quickly and effectively restructure.

Want to learn more about the nuts and bolts of how we change company cultures? Check out "What Is Org Design?"


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