Too Many Delegates Spoil the Discussion: The Math of Meetings

Author: Cronofy

18th March 2014

Everyone knows that too many cooks spoil the broth, but have you ever considered how too many delegates can spoil the discussion? Just how do we figure out the optimum number of people to invite to our meetings?

There are two main things you can do to prevent meetings from taking on an amoeba-like self-replicating form.

Be clear on the goals of the meeting

Setting out a clear reason for holding the meeting; laying down achievable goals and thinking only about how they can be reached (and therefore not caring about whether Joe in finance will feel put out if he’s not there, nor asking Mary from HR to attend simply because she makes a good PowerPoint presentation) will go a long way towards helping you define the guest list.

Once you know why you are holding the meeting you can think objectively about who needs to be there to get it done. If someone doesn’t really need to be present for the whole thing then only invite them to part of it (this is where you will also need a clear, timed agenda), or ask them to give their input ahead of the meeting for everyone to read.

Where the purpose is simply to impart information you might end up with a large number – just make sure everyone knows there will not be time for them all to speak. For ideas generation or discussions you might limit the meeting to a dozen or 20 people to ensure it does not get out of hand. When the time comes to make final decisions on policy, finances etc a handful of people should suffice.

Appoint one person, and one only, to send the invites

As soon as you send out an open invitation people will mention it to their colleagues, and before you know it the whole office shows up to your meeting about the cost of lightbulbs. Be clear about who needs to be there and who doesn’t and write your meeting request in such a way that it is clear that the invitee is an important delegate, and that all the other important delegates have also been invited (copying them all in is great, but beware follow-up conversation chains that end up longer than the Nile).

When you are making your list check it twice and ask yourself how valuable that person’s presence will be. You may find that you can whittle down the list by a few names – both analysts from IT probably don’t need to be there to say the same things; PAs for every executive is probably overkill.

Colleagues will have their own ideas about who should be involved, but this is your meeting and you are in charge – making it an open-house will only end in chaos and headaches.

For a more in-depth analysis of how meetings work, check out Meeting Analysis: Findings from Research and Practice.

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Date: 18th March 2014 | Category: Productivity