How do you manage two dozen direct reports?

Since the 1930s, conventional managerial wisdom held that seven to 10 direct reports was optimal. However, the Wall Street Journal reports that this notion is being challenged.

Assigning more workers to each boss started catching on during the corporate restructuring pushes of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when flatter organizational models took hold. Now some consultants are urging companies to loosen their views of supervising, so organizations can run with fewer bosses. Research in Europe suggests that a manager can oversee 30 or more employees, in part by using technology to communicate and help monitor work. . . . The researchers offered several possible reasons for managers' increased span of control, the technical term for how many workers are being supervised. Improved communications techniques may "help managers leverage their knowledge, solve more problems and supervise larger teams," they wrote.

The article mentions email, intranets, and web conferencing as key elements of the better communications techniques. To that point, the president of Cornerstone Research explains that most routine issues can be dealt with by email.

In my experience, however, most people seem to hit the wall around 10 direct reports. Beyond that number, they get overwhelmed with tracking work, solving problems, 1:1 and group meetings, email, etc. To double or triple that number seems impossible.

My question to you: do you manage more than 10 people? If so, how do you do it? What techniques do you use to reduce the burden of meetings? How do you stay on top of email and solve your staff's problems in a timely manner?

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2 Responses

  1. Wayne Allen says:

    I manage 20ish people primarily by not getting in their way. I set goals and allow localized decision making so that if I am not in the office stuff still gets done. Trust plays a key role here.

    Meeting-wise I do a 1:1 every other week with everyone and a once a week meeting with some key staff.

  2. Kevin says:

    I manage 13 direct reports (lucky number!) and it is quite challenging. Tracking promises and 1:1 action items becomes a technical challenge (though it became much easier after I started using the website). “Switching context” when talking to each person is a problem – it is really hard to remember snippets of personal information and details of their personalities!

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