Last week I was talking with someone with 'too many direct reports'. I've been here before and commonly the statement comes with a request to know what the 'right' number of direct reports is that someone should have. Fortunately this wasn't part of the conversation I had in this instance.
The start-point was to find out more by completing the sentence, 'I have too many reports – to ..... what?' We discussed 'to control', 'to pay sufficient attention to each of them', 'to run successful meetings with', 'to develop their skills', 'to manage my own work-load', 'to know what's really going on', 'to focus myself on the strategy and big issues', 'to network with my peers', 'to develop my own skills and knowledge' and so on. We were trying to find out whether the issue is actually too many direct reports or it feels like that because of other things. (See a book QBQ! The Question Behind the Question for good tips on this type of conversation).