What the Number 8 Means for Productive Meetings

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There’s really a lot you can throw at meetings: the place, the time, the frequency. But the most difficult decision concerns the list of participants. Too many people attend most meetings! 

Why is that? Simple answer:

Since you don’t want to hurt anyone, you invite everyone. Unfortunately, the quality of the meeting decreases dramatically: 12 participants, 13 opinions, and no decision. 

That sounds like a waste of time, doesn’t it? It’s crucial to consider what works and what doesn’t because you don’t want your meeting to be another example of the various ways meetings waste time[RF1] .

In my experience, meetings are most productive when there are fewer than eight people involved. 

That’s because there’s a tipping point where the quality of the conversation drops off. Once you get 10+ participants in a 60-minute meeting, everything changes. At that point, debates are often replaced by superficial comments.

The exchange of information among the 10+ participants eats up too much time. Questions with higher priority can then no longer be answered.

The more people present, the less open the discussion. Have you ever noticed this? Difficult topics and decisions are no longer put on the agenda and are dealt with “offline” instead.

Sound familiar?

That’s why meetings in companies are suddenly frowned upon, banned or ridiculed.

This isn’t good because there is so much to gain! It can be so easy to make meetings productive again.

Smaller groups build a sense of intimacy and open the way for meaningful and open discussion. Fewer people mean more time to listen. Thus, each participant’s perspective is considered. 

Clarity and openness emerge, and everyone is aligned! I always try to do meetings in small groups – with a maximum of 8 people.

Four helpful steps on how to turn your meetings back into productive work: 

1. Always remain transparent. 

First, tell your team you’re going to make a change. Let them know that your meetings will be smaller in the future, to make them more effective. Explain that you’re aware of how much time and energy everyone spends on meetings. You want to implement a strategy that gets the best results.

2. Be radical with your invitation list. 

To make sure you have the right people in the room, you need to know exactly what you’re going to discuss. You need to have a clear agenda. Make sure you allow enough time for each discussion topic. Fewer topics and more time are key here.

3. Make it clear to your team what everyone’s responsibilities are. 

This applies to both present and absent colleagues. It is logical that you ask those present to participate actively. You can do this as follows:

  • Listen: Be attentive, patient, and nonjudgmental.
  • Speaking: Be clear, concise, and relevant.
  • Ask for the information everyone needs.
  • Remind participants to consider everyone’s perspectives—including those who are absent

4. Always measure success. 

Once you’ve built these changes into the structure of your meetings, you can track how effective your meetings are. You can also evaluate how well your team is handling the changes.

Gather feedback. Keep working on it until you find the system that works best for your team and you.

Keeping meetings to a maximum of 8 people is a guiding principle that helps you be more thoughtful about who participates.

It is certainly possible to have productive meetings with 20+ people with skilled planning and good meeting practices. That should be the exception, though, and not the rule.

PS: By the way, it also doesn’t help if you have the optimal number of participants sitting in the meeting, but you are the only one speaking. There are several reasons why this doesn’t work, so be sure to read about how not to dominate meetings[RF4] .

Photo by Evangeline Shaw on Unsplash

 [RF1]Major sentence change: use the words I’ve higlighted for the comment as your link phrase. Rather than asking people to click, give them a reason to be curious about the link.

 [RF4]Make this your link phrase. I understand why you wrote the final sentence the way you did, but it’s best practice to use a link phrase that relates to the content you‘re linking to.

About the coach​

Kai Boyd has been a leader, trainer and facilitator since 1989. He supports leaders and their teams to work together effectively, trustfully and with ease. This involves each and everyone – in their respective roles and as people. Tailor-made formats and genuine attention enable potential to unfold and synergies to emerge.

The graduate industrial engineer, managing director and former management consultant knows the requirements of his clients from many perspectives. He works systemically, strength- and solution-oriented. Leading international teams as well as work and academic programs in the USA and the UK enable him to always contribute the international perspective.

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