The Rule of 150 states that the size of an effective social network is limited to 150 members.
Social scientists theorize that 150 is the limit of the human ability to remember and respond to all the members in a group. The human mind seems unable to maintain a large number of distinct relationships.
As the number of members in a group approaches 150, certain dynamics begin to manifest themselves.
Under 150 members, groups tend to be able to cooperate based on mutual trust, simple rules and easily understood management of resources.
As the group approaches or exceeds 150 members, factions appear, and a leadership hierarchy emerges.
Military organizations, one of the oldest forms of working cohesive groups, know that people work best in groups limited to 150 or less, that is platoons and squadrons. A platoon contains 30 to 40 people, comprised of smaller working units. A squadron or company consists of 60 to 250 members comprised of two to six platoons. Companies or squadrons are considered minor units, in contrast to the major units of battalions and regiments, which may contain two to 24 squadrons or 300 to 3,000 soldiers.
A four-hundred-year-old religious group, the Hutterites, realized that their maximum size for a communal farm, or colony, was 150 people. As a colony approached 150 members, the Hutterites divided the colony in two separate groups, in order to avoid the splintering of the group into clans. Today the Hutterites have around 350 colonies with over 35,000 members.
As a group goes over 150, social scientists have noted that it is easier for freeloaders, cheaters and liars to establish themselves into the community, introducing a divisive element to the group.
What does the Rule of 150 mean for our families and our children?
As we work in groups, we need to be aware of the dynamics that naturally develop. A friend described how her workplace disintegrated as the group grew larger.
“I remember,” she said, ”exactly the day, time and place that my job went from ‘us’ to ‘them’. From that day forward I watched the group splinter and our espirit de corps be lost forever.”
In our schools, we need to encourage the creation of workings groups of less than 150 whenever possible. Communities tell of success in creating “schools within a school” programs or “pods”, where less than 150 students and teachers interact in a long-term learning community. Families and school staff report a sense of high satisfaction when working in these smaller school organizations using multi-year tracts.
In our churches, we need to be aware of how growth affects the community. Pastors report political and leadership challenges as congregations approach 150 members. Fellowship groups of six to eight families or couples create vital social cohesion and group satisfaction in larger churches.
In our sports organizations, we need to use the Rule of 150 to keep our leagues small enough to avoid damaging trust, loyalty and the objectives of sportsmanship.
As a group reaches its effective limits, people start to fall through the cracks of the social network. Complicated hierarchies of leadership emerge. Communication and feedback diminish among members.
As we all know, there are still problems with groups that are under 150 members.
In smaller organizations, though, perhaps our children and our families can develop effective relationships and communications, helping to ensure the happiness and success of each member.
I wonder now after reading your article about the global community. I wonder at the different nations wanting to control the world. Now after reading your article I understand why there are many problems world wide. Thank you.
This makes perfect sense…and as organizations I work with approach that number of members, families, etc. – I will be more aware of the pitfalls in social dynamics! Thanks for the information. As always, your articles and comments are timely and relevant.
It seems to come down to these three things: trust, respect and communication.
I always learn something here. This is fascinating with implications across so many arenas. Thanks and aloha.
Our school has grown to 155 students. I have been feeling a need to formally establish 2 separate programs – primary and elementary. Now I better understand why. Maren, thank you once again.
This speaks volumes about our bureaucracies at the state and federal levels.