Minimize the number of people in your meetings

How many people were at your last meeting? How many actually contributed to the meeting? And how many were silent or were checking their email? The problem as I see it is that we invite too many people without the knowledge and skills for how to facilitate that many people.

More knowledge and perspectives

The more people we add to a meeting the more knowledge, perspectives, and decision-making power we bring to the meeting.

The more people we invite the more knowledge, perspectives, and decision-making power is present.

Harder to facilitate

The more people we bring into a meeting the harder it becomes to lead that meeting. Even though a person has some unique knowledge or perspectives, how do we make sure that person can contribute in a good way? We will use less and less of each extra person we invite. Until you get so many people in the room that all the valuable contributions are drowned out in noise.

The more people we invite the more knowledge, perspectives, and decision-making power is present.

What is your optimum?

The number of people you can bring into a room depends on the duration of the meeting, the skills you have as a facilitator, and the collaborative mindset of your participants. If you have too few people you will lose out on knowledge, perspectives, and decision-making power. The more people you have the less effective you will be at using it.

There is a balance between too few and too many people in a meeting.

I have run workshops with around fifty people, focused on a single topic that delivered a good result. My wife, Magdalena Musiala, has run workshops for more than one hundred people, but the workshops were a couple of days long where she and her co-facilitators spent weeks planning how to run them. This type of event is not part of most people’s day-to-day activities, so I will instead focus on the most common type of meeting people facilitate: the one-hour meeting.

One hour meetings

I always try to have a maximum of six participants for a one-hour meeting. If I need more people then I try to add more time to make sure that people can contribute in a good way. Sometimes it isn’t possible to add more time, because people’s calendars are already full and the meeting needs to happen soon. Then I have to put in more effort in communicating the goal of the meeting, making sure that people prepare, and plan a good process for the meeting.

The reason I like to keep a meeting to maximum six people is that:

  • Everyone can contribute when six people are having a discussion.
  • It is obvious if you don’t participate and check your email instead.
  • You can use a whiteboard to write and everyone will see what is on it.
  • It is possible to talk in pairs or trios if you want to dig into something.

How do you invite the right people?

After you have decided what the goal and outputs are for the meeting, then you should ask yourself what knowledge, perspectives and decision-making power is needed.

  • Knowledge is the information, skills, and competencies that we need to solve the problem.
  • Different perspectives are also important to make sure we look at the problem from different angles and more importantly represent different needs, interests, and roles.
  • The people in the room needs to be able to make a decision with regard to the problem. It is ok that they can’t make the final decision but the participants need to make the meeting’s output legitimate within your organization.

Write down the knowledge, perspectives and decision-making power on sticky notes, and then try to find the fewest number of people that can fill them. When you have placed all the sticky notes on different people then see if there are more people you want to invite:

  • Why do you want to invite them?
  • Have you missed something or are you being too inclusive?

Two final thoughts

  • During your next meetings, think about how many people are present and actually contribute. Which of these people could have been more productive somewhere else? (It might be you)
  • When you book your next meeting then make sure you are extremely clear about the purpose of the meeting and that you try to invite as few people as possible.