Meetings are simply a group of people. So effective meetings hinge on having the right people at the table. Leave someone out, and you might not have the right perspectives to make an informed choice. Have too many folks in the room, and the meeting can become unfocused and a waste of time.
How many people should you invite?
Michael Mankins researches corporate time wasting and has a formula for deciding how many people to invite to reach a decision.
“For every additional meeting participant over seven, the likelihood of making a sound decision goes down by 10 percent,” Mankins told the Wall Street Journal. “By the time you get 17 people, the chances of actually making a decision are zero.”
Columnist Sue Shellenbarger has a simple formula for figuring out the number of people necessary for different types of meetings:
- Problem-solving: four to six people
- Decision making: four to seven people
- Agenda setting: five to 15
- Brainstorm: 10 to 20 people
Meetings at Atlassian
Program managers at Atlassian play an essential role in the right meeting attendees for our projects. From the project kick-off to weekly check-ins, program managers consider each person to bring into the room.
Nirali Shah leads the program managers here at Atlassian. She makes sure everyone knows why they’re invited to a specific meeting. If she’s not sure if an individual needs to be in the meeting or not, she’ll ask them directly.
“I’m pretty strict on my meeting invites, I feel like rooms get pretty packed and bloated,” says Shah.
She allows people to self-select meeting by simply asking directly, “do you need to be in this meeting.”
If you’re having trouble figuring out who should be at the meeting, you might not be clear on the roles and responsibilities of your team. Try running the Roles and Responsibilities play in The Atlassian Team Playbook for clarity.
Whatever way you structure your meetings it’s crucial to have a facilitator or driver, at Atlassian that person is often the project owner or program manager.
Alice Merlino manages programs for product marketing teams here at Atlassian. “It’s really important to have an agenda that includes the intended outcome of the meeting and that usually tells you who needs to be there,” says Merlino.
Who can skip the meeting?
There are always going to be folks who end up in meetings they probably should’ve skipped. Here are some types of attendees you might want to pull aside and ask if they really want/need to be there.
The silent observer: In a productive meeting everyone participates. If someone’s just there to get information there are better ways to do that. Here at Atlassian, we have so many great communication tools Shah says she doesn’t have to chase people down to make sure they’re informed.
So if you have folks who just sit in the meeting and contribute little or nothing it might be time to remove the meeting from their calendar.
The negatron: Negativity can creep into even the healthiest of teams. When you have someone who’s integral to the team but repeatedly shoots down new ideas, it can really kill a meeting. Merlino says when she’s faced overly negative teammates she just takes a “friendly bulldozer” approach: acknowledge their concerns and address them to whatever extent possible, then keep rolling forward.
The celebrity: When an attendee is both well-respected and has strong opinions they love to share, they can dominate a meeting (usually without intending to). Ask them to be the designated “devil’s advocate,” which shifts them into listening mode and creates space for other’s to contribute.
The narcissist: This person makes it all about themselves and can really suck the air out of the room. When you have a celebrity in the room, it’s important to circle back to the agenda and continually ask for other people’s perspectives.
The multitasker: We’ve all been there, sitting in a meeting that’s a little boring and you casually check your e-mail or maybe place a quick Amazon order because you just remembered you needed a big hat for an upcoming Kentucky Derby Party. This, of course, is not great meeting behavior. The best way to combat this is making sure everyone had a role to play and something to add. Another option is asking people to close their laptops and take notes the old-fashioned way.
In the end, determining your meeting attendees hinges on mutual respect and trust in your team. It all comes down to providing the involved parties with all the necessary information, making sure you’re conducting useful and productive meetings and trusting everyone to be a team player.
No one benefits from long, bloated meetings and no one wants to sit through something that’s not valuable.
With the right tools in place and the right people at the table, you’ll unleash the power of your team and maybe even free up some time in your day.