Getting your meeting size right

Getting the size right is also important for t-shirts. Photo by MODERN ESSENTIALS on Unsplash

Getting the size right is also important for t-shirts. Photo by MODERN ESSENTIALS on Unsplash

Last week, I wrote about how there should be no attendees in meetings - only participants. Here are some tips on getting the number of participants right in your meetings.

Last week I was emphatic and definitive about the number of attendees (zero). This week, there is a focus on principles to lift your meeting performance. The fact is that there are so many variables when considering meetings that rigid rules are likely to be less helpful than well considered principles. When I am working with teams and organisations on meeting size, here are two principles that I encourage them to keep in mind.

  1. Minimum Viable Participants

  2. The 8-18-1800 'rule'

Minimum Viable Participants

Whatever the meeting, what is the fewest possible people that can make a meaningful decision on this and who are they? It makes such sense to apply this rule when we are thinking about how to run our meetings, but it takes a lot on our behalf to get it right. It requires a lot of thinking up front about:

  • Who are the best people to make this decision?

  • How do we best prepare those people to make the decision in the meeting?

  • How do we gracefully exclude others who may have an interest in the decision (but are not an essential part of the decision making process)?

The work to reach this is often the barrier to reaching Minimum Viable Participants. It's harder than it first appears. The path of least resistance is to include people who may be interested and becomes why and how meetings size creeps up and we get more attendees detracting from decision making processes.

  1. The 8-18-1800 'rule'

This is a less of a hard rule than a rule of thumb (i.e. a principle!) that is broadly referred to and sets guidelines for the maximum number of participants for various types of meetings:

8 - No more than 8 people for a decision making meeting

Research cited by Bain in 2011 suggests that for each additional person over seven members in a decision-making group, decision effectiveness is reduced by approximately 10 percent. That's around 30% reduction with 10 people! Chances are that if you feel like you need more than 8 people to make a decision, you probably haven't scoped out the decision as well as you need to. 

18 - No more than 18 people for an idea generation session

Where the purpose of the meeting is to generate a large number of ideas that can later be decided on, having a broader range of perspectives in a meeting makes sense. One trap that a lot of us fall into is trying to do both. In these instances, we'll be better off to be clear about a meeting that is just for idea generation and have a separate forum for decision making.

1800 - for a Town Hall type meeting

I won't comment on this - I don't play in the Town Hall meeting space. That feels a little bit more like strategic communications and/or public speaking to me. 

Both of these principles (Minimum Viable Participants and 8-18-1800) are helpful to keep in mind and fit in both the Design and Execution elements of the framework that I support teams and organisations with.

Some questions for you to consider:

  1. Would applying these principles lift the performance of your meetings?

  2. What would be the challenges for you if you had to exclude people from your meetings to make them more effective?