Edward Hall’s “Beyond Culture,” a fascinating read, draws upon his experiences as a psychoanalyst and cross-cultural anthropologist to examine how things like language, time, brain structure, and education condition our views of the world. Some of the passages touch on themes we’ve addressed here at SvN (e.g. reality vs. plans, small groups, bureaucracy, etc.) so I’ll post a few excerpts over the next couple of days.

Let’s start with Hall’s conclusion on the perfect group size: 8-12 people. If a group that size can’t get it done, then it’s time to break down the task.

Fortunately, something is known both empirically and scientifically about the influence exerted by size on groups and the effect of size on how the groups perform. Research with business groups, athletic teams, and even armies around the world has revealed there is an ideal size for a working group. This ideal size is between eight and twelve individuals. This is natural, because man evolved as a primate while living in small groups…Eight to 12 persons can know each other well enough to maximize their talents. In groups beyond this size, the possible combinations of communication between individuals get too complex to handle; people are lumped into categories and begin the process of ceasing to exist as individuals. Tasks than can’t be handled by a group of eight to 12 are probably too complex and should be broken down further. Participation and commitment fall off in larger groups — mobility suffers; leadership doesn’t develop naturally but is manipulative and political.