The optimal number of people to invite to your meeting

It all depends on what kind of meeting you're holding

Inviting the wrong number of people to a meeting is sure to derail it. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Sue Shellenbarger breaks down the number of people you should include depending on your purpose. 

To consider a problem, invite 4-6 people

For problem-solving meetings, you need the minimum number of people who bring the expertise needed for the task at hand, Shellenbarger writes. Otherwise, the conversation gets off track and not everyone will be heard, warns Workfront CEO Alex Shootman.

Shootman also recommends giving each attendee a specific role. Some will provide and collect information for their teams, some will offer general wisdom, and others will be part of making the final decision. Extra attendees wouldn't have a meaningful purpose.

To make a decision, invite 4-7 people

Inviting too many people is a sure way not to decide anything. Michael Mankins, a San Francisco-based partner with Bain & Co., uses what he calls the "Rule of Seven" to protect the small attendee list. According to Mankins, the likelihood of arriving at a good decision decreases 10% for every meeting participant over seven.

"By the time you get 17 people, the chances of your actually making a decision are zero," he says. 

Not all meetings are created equal

To set an agenda, invite 5-15 people

The size of a meeting for setting an agenda will vary based on the size of an organization, but should only include the people whose work or responsibilities are actually relevant to the day's agenda, according to Paul Donehue, president of Paul Charles & Associates.

To brainstorm, invite 10-20 people

Brainstorming requires a mix of diverse perspectives, so bumping up the attendee list makes more sense in this situation. Al Pittampalli, author of Read This Before Our Next Meeting, suggests you begin with 10 people—and then add in a few more people. The exception to the rule: If you can't find anyone who will truly bring a different perspective, there's no need to go beyond the initial 10 people.

To encourage people to be open with their ideas, Andrew Carton, assistant professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, suggests letting participants submit anonymous ideas before the meeting (Shellenbarger, Wall Street Journal, 12/20). 


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