The Struggle of 30 People

Shawnee Love   •   May 28, 2024

I was recently trying to explain to a friend about why organizations struggle to get beyond 30 people. I see organizations hover around that number going a bit over for awhile only to fall back below time and again. Each time they try different people, different jobs, different tools, etc. and nothing seems to work.

It’s easy to blame the boss, resistant workers, the government, or the crazy VUCA world we are trying to run businesses in, and all of those may be contributing factors. However, what if I told you that the biggest reason for returning to that magical 30 people equilibrium is because the systems, tools, and methods which got them to 30 won’t handle the next level. If you imagine a tree, the trunk and branches cannot get too big for the root system, something has to give.

Those systems which worked amazing for 5-10 people usually started needing upgrades a long time before the company approached 30, and the smart, hard-working, committed team members noticed those issues arising and jumped on the fixes. They may have outsourced or brought in additional tools or systems and bolted them on. The problem was addressed temporarily at least, and since they had work to do, they got back to it.

Problem solved with resourcefulness and initiative and isn’t that what most entrepreneurs hire for after all?

That cycle continues in iterations until eventually you have a Franken-system with work arounds and makeshift solutions which people who work there are used to (but often forget to tell new hires). Companies can continue this process of waffling above and below the magic number 30 for years before someone recognizes there could be a better way. (Note, turnover is usually a contributing factor in the long delay in recognizing the pattern.)

So what can you do?

  1. Know that people who understand organizational development will recognize the patterns in your organization’s growing pains and be able to develop a plan just as an early childhood educator or teacher will recognize the pattern and stage of development in your child before you do- they have seen it many times before.
  2. Look for someone who can work with you, collaborating and supporting you in moving forward.
  3. Take your time, like a complicated surgery, you don’t want to move people or sever a project or process without knowing what it feeds or how it contributes.

I recommend starting first with where you want to be and then considering where you are. Both take thought, research and evaluation. Then, work on a plan to close the gap (which also likely requires deep analysis of your organization). This organizational change process is complicated by the fact that you are still delivering the products or services you are know for, so you want to get it right and stop all that cycling.

That’s why entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint of heart. You are building the plane while flying it.

If you are struggling to get past 30 or want to learn more, drop a line.