|Christopher Allen of the Life With Alacrity blog has expanded his articles on group size, with an article on community sizes and another on personal circle sizes. The latter are our own self-centred circles (those we’re in the middle of), while the former are circles of which we have chosen to be a member. The dynamics of the two, Christopher says, are different. Let’s start with the personal circles:
The Support Circle (3-5 people) is the innermost, and consists of people you would seek help from in a crisis.
The Sympathy Circle (7-20 people, with a median of 10-15) are those whose death you’d find devastating, people you really care about.
The Trust Circle (40-200 people, with a median of about 120) are those people you trust and have strong personal ties with (you’d miss them if you/they ‘moved away’).
The Emotional Circle (median size of just under 300 people) are those people you have “weak ties” to, i.e. some kind of probably non-reciprocal ‘liking’ for. You’re probably familiar with ‘The Strength of Weak Ties‘ and the importance of this peripheral group of people in helping you find the people and opportunities that will have a dramatic effect on your life and happiness.
Christopher also refers to a group called ‘familiar strangers’, people you recognize but don’t know.
Taken together, these circles form a ‘topology’ that Christopher describes as follows:
Think of these circles as the ridge lines of a topographical map. An individual sits at the center, and around him lie many other people, fading slowly away as the distance increases. Winding through these topographical lines, like forests or rivers, are geographies of physical and emotional connection.
Kin are one of the most interesting geographies, because they lie all across the map. There’s a clump of them in the innermost circles, but there are also many who lie in the realm of Familiar Strangers, including those cousins and great-aunts who you only see at family gatherings, and whom you know nothing about. There are also forces being exerted upon the circles, acting like gravity to draw people together.
Turning to community sizes:
Working Groups (optimally 4-9 people, with a median of 7): Many studies suggest this size is optimal for communication, collaboration, and decision-making. Also works well for dinner parties and poker games. Beyond 9 and up to 25 members, groups get increasingly dysfunctional (12-15 is worst, so think twice about gathering your whole Sympathy Circle together for any purpose).
Enterprise Groups (optimally 25-75, with a median of 50): An enterprise is a systemic activity, a mutual undertaking with a common objective or focus of interest. This is the optimal size for guilds, associations, business enterprises, ‘unconferences’ and social networks — you get diversity and the ‘wisdom of crowds’ and critical mass for action, but the group is still self-manageable. Christopher calls this the ‘non-exclusive Dunbar number’ because such groups rarely have sufficient cohesion to attract anyone’s full-time or life-long energies. Beyond 75, groups again become increasingly dysfunctional, until, beyond the ‘official’ Dunbar number of 150, the geometrically increasing work needed to try to sustain any real cohesion, trust and participation outweighs the so-called ‘economies of scale’.
So what does all this mean for social networking, blogging, twittering, Natural Enterprise, intentional community, the future of work, etc.? Here are Pollard’s Hypotheses of Social Cohesion, so far hypothetical, except insofar as I’ve observed the dynamics in a lot of workplaces:
We are social creatures at heart, and increasing our understanding of social cohesion and group effectiveness is important, for our personal happiness and ability to live peacefully with each other, and to help us to find meaningful, productive work as our current economy crumbles. What does the topology of your various social networks and work communities look like?
And what could we do, instead of herding people into anonymous housing subdivisions and indifferent hierarchical corporations, to better reflect our desire for self-selected social connection and to improve our work effectiveness?
Top 4 drawings, taken from Christopher’s site, drawn by Nancy Margulies.
Category: Social Networking