Inviting the right number of people to your meetings is the first step to ensuring your meetings are as efficient as possible. But what is the ideal number of participants for most groups? And how do you choose who to add to your meeting attendees list?
Well, we at JOIN have some tips to share.
It’s easy to think that the more people you invite, the more brainpower you’ve got on hand. However, this often backfires. Too many cooks spoil the broth, as the saying goes. Inviting too many people to your meeting places a high “cognitive load” on individual members, as stated by Bob Sutton. This means that more time will be devoted to coordinating communication, delegating tasks and other administrative functions than actually getting things done.
Alternatively, if you haven’t got everyone you need present then there’s a big chance that the whole meeting will be a waste of time. This happens when decisions can’t be reached, and answers can’t be given, as a person with critical information isn’t present.
At JOIN we tend to stick by the tried and tested rule of seven which states that seven is the maximum number of members that can be involved in a meeting before effectiveness drops. Each additional person after seven participants is said to reduce decision effectiveness by 10%. However, this rule is said by Inc. to have some flexibility in that you can add or subtract two participants from this number without ruining the dynamic too much!
Of course, different types of meetings call for different numbers of people. But, we’ve found that keeping the group to seven or under is ideal, as the most productive meetings are said to have fewer than eight people.
Below, you’ll find our guide to who needs to be invited to which meetings.
- Team updates
- Company updates
- Problem-solving meetings
- Brainstorming meetings
- Presentation meetings
- Project kick-off meetings
1. Who to invite to team or status updates
As mentioned in our article dissecting whether your meeting needs to be a meeting, often status update meetings could be an email. However, on the rare occasion that you do need to gather a group to make a team announcement or similar news update, it’s essential to keep the group as small as possible.
Only bringing in the relevant reports to the situation is beneficial, and keeping the group below eight is ideal as this will mean that everyone present feels comfortable asking questions. Larger groups than this can be intimidating to the team and mean that attendees feel as though they can’t ask questions. In turn, this can lead to miscommunication or the spread of misinformation throughout the business.
Informing the relevant team of the update and allowing time for questions means everyone will leave feeling clear on the changes or actions. Of course, the news can then be announced to the wider team through an email or Slack channel later on.
2. Who to invite to exciting company updates
Company updates that will impact everyone are a good time to rally the troops and bring everyone together for an announcement. Having the whole team present is a good way to create a buzz throughout the business and create a united front. It’s also a great way to improve company culture and team bonding.
One important thing to note is that the timing of these meetings is incredibly important and will have a huge impact on the day’s productivity. Reading up on the best time to hold a meeting like this will really help you when planning this type of meeting in the future.
3. Who to invite to problem-solving or decision-making meetings
The optimum number of people in a meeting like this can vary depending on the problem at hand.
As a rule, five to seven members is enough for this purpose. Any additional members can bring too many conflicting opinions to the table, making solving the problem a long-drawn-out process.
When thinking of who needs to be present for this meeting, consider the following:
- Who discovered the problem?
- Who is the most informed on the problem?
- Who is most likely to be actioning the solutions from the meeting?
This small team should be sufficient for coming up with a fire-fighting plan for the problem at hand.
Resist the urge to invite everyone whose workflow will be impacted by the problem to the meeting. While they certainly should be informed of the outcome once it is settled, this can easily be done by emailing over the meeting minutes and a list of actions they may need to take.
You can also give them the chance to provide feedback, but bringing everyone involved together at once will potentially derail the focused discussion to wider workflows. This then prolongs the time that the problem takes to solve.
Plus, with a third of professionals reporting that they’re unable to contribute to most of the meetings they’re in, cutting down on attendees is a step in the right direction to fixing this.
4. Who to invite to brainstorming meetings
Brainstorming sessions are a perfect example of a time when it’s okay to have a few extra brains at the table. Having too few people here risks the idea bank running dry.
Still, it’s best not to overstuff it. Following Jeff Bezos’s infamous ‘two pizza’ meeting rule can help to avoid too many members being present. Only invite as many people as you can feed with two pizzas. This avoids bringing an overwhelming amount of ideas into place, meaning you can discuss each one in detail. It also avoids some attendees ‘social loafing,’ where they sit back and allow other team members to put in the work.
5. Who to invite to presentations
As we mentioned in our “should it be a meeting?” article, giving a presentation where you’re simply running through a slideshow is not the best use of a team’s time. But, if you’re going to encourage a discussion or conversation on the points presented then this is certainly something worth doing in person.
This means any employees that may have been nervous to speak or ask questions in front of a larger group will feel more comfortable, while also ensuring that the group isn’t too big for the conversation to stay on track.
6. Who to invite to project kick-off meetings
While this seems like a simple meeting to curate an invite list too, it is surprisingly easy to go wrong here.
You may feel as though you need to invite everyone who could possibly be involved with the project at any point or you have to invite stakeholders from outside of the project to be polite. This can quickly get messy though. When invited to a meeting, these stakeholders may feel like they need to suggest changes or offer input that isn’t really needed, thereby unnecessarily delaying the project.
Inviting only team members who are absolutely essential to getting the project off of the ground will mean you’re able to form a clear and simple starting point. When setting up the invite list consider:
- Who is the most important source of information regarding the project?
- Who will be actioning the most points?
- Which team members will be producing work for the project?
- Who will be troubleshooting any issues that arise?
Inviting any more attendees than this can complicate the matter. Resist the urge to bring full teams of people whose workflow might be impacted, as the majority of colleagues can be emailed or otherwise informed of the notes and actions taken in the meeting, with the option to further discuss in a quick call.
Once again, the rule of seven (plus or minus two) is a good one to follow. Although, if there are essential sources of information who may take the group above this number, it is best to bring them along as having a well-informed task force is more important than having a lean meeting.
Less is more
As you can see, less is more when it comes to meetings. This is the case for productivity, communication and rapid decision making as well as practical matters like finding a space big enough to support your meeting, and a schedule that suits everyone.
For more advice on scheduling meetings, which is often the next step in planning your meeting, check out our article on the best length for your meeting.