Meetings: When Bigger Isn’t Better

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Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, has a curious rule for meetings. He doesn’t plan any meetings in which two pizzas aren’t enough to feed everyone (Inc). Despite the company’s gargantuan size (it counted on more than half a million employees in 2017), Bezos sticks steadfastly to his two-pizza rule.

Michael Mankin, partner at Bain & Company, suggests a “rule of seven.” No more than seven people at a meeting—any additional attendee reduces the likelihood of making a sound decision by 10% (The Wall Street Journal). Research suggests that large meetings are indeed a waste of resources due to a phenomenon called social loafing. An analysis published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology defines social loafing as “the tendency for individuals to expend less effort when working collectively than when working individually.” Social loafing is the phenomenon that makes group projects such a challenge in elementary school and it’s still at play in the workplace.

People feel less individually accountable in big groups. Many believe their efforts are unlikely to make an impact, and therefore don’t bother contributing. In order to maximize productivity during meetings, keep groups small.

Instead of having a big group of employees put in meager efforts, have a selected subset put in stronger efforts. Remaining employees can continue working on their own tasks, thus maximizing team performance.

In order to reduce your list of attendees, keep in mind the following tips:

  • Consider having one representative from each pertinent department. You don’t need the entire finance team to tell you whether a budget is feasible.
  • Disregard outdated invitation lists. Individuals are often involved in decisions or resources simply because “they’ve always been involved,” while in reality these individuals may have little or nothing to contribute (HBR).
  • Look at your agenda. Ideally, every individual should have something to contribute to each topic. Don’t make someone attend a one-hour meeting to participate in a five-minute discussion. Instead, connect with these people before or after the meeting.

Need more tips on how to design a great meeting? Our eBook, Meetings with Meaningful Dialogue, is available for free on our website.