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How Not To Promote Managers: Size Of Their Team

Many managers themselves have a manager. Someone they report to. ("Overhead" can have its own "overhead".)

There are a lot things a manager of a managers can do that (may seem like a good idea at first, but) can have a globally harmful effect on a company.

One of those things is to make the promotion of (or hiring of) a manager dependent on the size of the team(s) they managed.

This is why this is a problem.

Scenario #1

Consider a team of 2 very very good software engineers.

Between the 2 of them, they have the producitivity of (say) 20 "normal" software engineers. (2 10x engineers.)

And not only that, there are (technical) problems that these 2 engineers can solve that "normal" software engineers cannot solve.

So not only is there a quantitative difference but also a qualitative difference.

(2 engineers whose skills are leaps and bounds above most others at the company.)

Now add a manager.

Officially the manager (probably) has 2 of the top software engineers in the company. That sounds like a good thing.

If this manager can find a way to work with these 2 software engineers, they have the potential to have a very large positive impact on the company. Again, this sounds like a good thing.

What this team gets done should be impressive to all, right?

But this manager only managers 2 people. If this manager is being judged by the size of his or her team then it doesn't matter how skilled those people are.

How does this manager look to managers above him or her? If this manager is being judged by the size of his or her team, then managing just 2 engineers isn't impressive at all.

Even if this manager hired those 2 very very skilled software engineers, if this manager is being judged by the size of his or her team, it this doesn't look good for this manager.

If a manager is being judged by the size of their team, this manager (probably) looks low skilled to the managers above him or her.

Scenario #2

What if that manager got rid of those 2 very very good software engineers (somehow) and replaced them with 20 "normal" software engineers.

The number of people that manager is (conceptually) managing has grown.

If this manager is being judged by the size of his or her team, then this manager all of a sudden probably looks a lot more skilled.

However, the 20 "normal" engineers (collectively) cost more than the 2 very very good engineers. (Almost certainly a lot more.) You would think this is a bad thing, but if this manager is being judged by the size of their team, it isn't.

Having that many people working together causes overhead that will slow things down. You would think this is a bad thing, but if this manager is being judged by the size of their team, it isn't.

There are types of problems these "normal" engineers won't be able to solve (that the very very good software engineers were able to solve). You would think this is a bad thing, but if this manager is being judged by the size of their team, it isn't.

The company is worse off for this. You would think this is a bad thing, but if this manager is being judged by the size of their team, it isn't.

Systemic Problem

Now imagine that many many managers are doing the same thing as "scenario #2". Maybe there is some manager of managers that is judging managers by the size of their team(s).

Now you have a systemic problem!

Now you have many many managers trying to inflate the size of teams, as a goal in and of itself.

Any business-oriented organization should have the goals: #1 increase revenue, #2 decrease costs and #3 increase market share.

At the very least, managers trying to inflate the size of teams, as a goal in and of itself works against decreasing costs.

(Although, my experience is that this type of activity can have other negative effects: changing the culture for the worse, destorying social capital and creating a toxic environment.)

Now the company has a big problem.

(I saw this happen at a very large company.)

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