Have less people at meetings

25th September 2012

When two people meet, they only need to have one agreement: Mr. A must agree with Mrs. B.

When four people meet, they now need six agreements – AB, AC, AD, BC, BD and CD.

When eight people meet, they need 28 agreements (don’t worry – I won’t list them all!)

When you look at it like this, is it any wonder that big meetings don’t achieve all you hoped?

People often think it helps when they invite more people to a meeting. But, if you’re not careful, it just ends up “deciding by committee”, in that:

  • Nothing gets decided
  • Even when things do get decided, it takes ages
  • The noisiest person gets their way (and “noisiest” can – but doesn’t always mean – “most insightful”)

So, reduce attendees by doing some/all of:

  • Make decisions 1-2-1 as often as possible
  • Only invite people who can influence the decision; and/or will make the decision better; and/or care
  • Similarly, only go to meetings where you can/want to influence the decision (obviously contact the owner beforehand if you’re not going)
  • If you can only contribute to agenda items 3 and 6, call the owner in advance, and ask them to change the agenda so they discuss your topics first, so you can contribute then leave
  • Once a decision has been made, choose the person(s) who will run with it, and ask them to take the detail off line. This is much better than eight people having 28 (dis)agreements about it
  • If appropriate, send relevant non-attendees an “Actions arising” e-mail, so they are up to speed (note: “Actions arising”, not “Topics discussed”)

As with any communications advice, remember the rule of “first, do no harm”. All the personalities and politics involved in meetings mean that you have to treat this advice sensibly.

But always remember; ideally, you should only attend a meeting because it helps you and others; not because you always have done.

Action point

Review your diary for upcoming meetings that you are chairing and/or attending. What can you do to reduce the number of attendees at each of them, including – when appropriate – yourself?

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