Some fun (?) maths to help transform your meetings (or, at least, make them bearable)

6th October 2015

A very different start to this week’s Tip.

Here’s a maths equation…

       N x (N – 1) ÷ 2

And what does this riveting thing represent?

It shows the number of agreements that need to take place in a meeting, where N is the number of people attending.

For example, when two people meet (so, N = 2), the number of agreements you need is 1 [calculation: 2 x (2 – 1) ÷ 2 = 1]. In other words, person A needs to agree with person B – one agreement. And that’s it.

But when four people meet, it’s now six agreements – AB, AC, AD, BC, BD and CD. [If you care – and who couldn’t? – the maths is 4 x (4 – 1) ÷ 2 = 6]

Obviously, it’s much harder to get six agreements than one.

And if you do the maths, you’ll find meetings of eight people require 28 agreements; and sixteen people require 120. This will mean big meetings take ages, and people rarely agree on everything.

You’ll have seen this at work. It’s all-too-easy to think “collaboration” means piling as many people as possible in a room to discuss things. But this often leads to decisions taking ages, not happening at all, or being rubbish (that’s why there’s the saying that a camel is what a horse would look like if it was designed by committee).

So, what to do about it?

Well, you have a few options. One is to reduce the number of people involved. For instance, some/all of:

  • Only invite people who need to be there. One way to decide who could be to use the RACI model (this is a way of looking at each person’s role – are they Responsible, Accountable, do we need to Consult with them, or only Inform them?)
  • Only invite people who need to be there – remember, you can always send the Actions Arising to non-attendees
  • Don’t attend meetings you don’t need to – you can ask to see the Actions Arising
  • Never allow big groups to discuss small detail (simply say “we’ll do the detail offline. For now, let’s just agree the main points”)
  • Where appropriate, split large groups into smaller sub-groups. One sub-group does a detailed first draft, to share with the wider group

I was once invited to a meeting to wordsmith a complex proposal for a £multi million project.

There were – get this – 28 people there.


They asked me how I wanted to start the meeting. I told them “by removing as many people from this room as we can” Which they did. And we had a great meeting.

And they won the contract.

But if I hadn’t done this, we’d have needed 378 agreements. That was just never going to happen.

Action point

Which of your meetings has the most attendees? And what can you do to reduce the numbers?

Also, which of this week’s meetings do you not need to attend? Get out of one meeting per week, and you save about 50 hours per year – that’s a working week!
But one meeting I would strongly advise you do attend: my seminar with Drayton Bird – how to trigger interest and attention in what you do, and then persuade people to choose you. It’s fast-approaching – it’s two weeks today. Here’s why we guarantee every single attendee will get at least fifteen new ideas they can implement immediately.

Want more Tuesday Tips?

Every week, Andy releases a Tuesday Tip via email and his website, let’s take you back to the archive of tips.

Back to Tuesdays Tips