Have you ever started watching a TV series that looked great on paper, but ended up having so many different storylines that you honestly couldn’t keep up? At first, it seemed like it had a diverse cast with an array of experiences, so you thought you’d definitely find one character to identify with. And having more people on screen meant that you’d get to witness so many more interesting interactions. But in reality, there was just too much going on. And those five to seven characters that you actually find interesting don’t get enough screen-time to make it worth your while to watch the show.
Even if you personally haven’t experienced the above, it’s a good analogy for what we’re about to discuss today: the number of people who should be in any given meeting at any given time. Like on a TV show, having too many people in one room confuses things, makes it difficult to connect with individuals and can make hearing certain voices harder than if you were in a room with, say, five to seven people.
So, read on for what to keep in mind when deciding who to invite, whether you’re heading for the conference room or booking hourly meeting rooms in NYC for an offsite creative session or client strategy meeting.
It all comes down to the two pizza rule
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, famously came up with the “two pizza rule” many years ago when Amazon was still starting up and it continues to make sense today. Essentially, the rule is pretty simple: only include as many people in a meeting as you can feed with two pizzas. Any more than that and productivity levels may suffer.
Here’s the thing, when you have too many people in one meeting, three things happen that hinder productivity: it’s harder to coordinate, it’s more difficult to motivate and the people in the room lose support.
Why it’s harder to coordinate a larger group of people
The more people there are in a room, the less they’re able to connect with one another. Think about it this way: if there are 19 people in a room and you’re all set to come up with a solution to a problem your business is facing, you’re not going to hear each and every person’s perspective. And if you are able to do that, you won’t have the time or energy to take an indepth look at each idea. The person facilitating the meeting is therefore going to have to perform practical magic in order to coordinate the meeting so that the best ideas come out and people are able to agree on a way forward by the time the meeting is over.
Sure, the more people there are in a room, the more likely there is to be a plethora of ideas. But coordinating those ideas into solid solutions and actionable goals is going to be difficult. If you have a smaller group of people, you’ll be able to have more discussion and less raising of hands.
Motivation falls by the wayside in large groups
It’s easy to get lost in a crowd. The more people there are, the less personal responsibility meeting attendees will feel. And a lack of personal responsibility directly leads to lower levels of motivation. If no one is going to notice if someone isn’t taking part in the discussion, they’re less likely to feel like they should be contributing. When too many people are expected to collaborate as one, fewer people feel the need to put in the work. It’s not immediately noticeable if they stay silent and if they do want to say something, it’s actually more difficult when there are too many voices trying to be heard.
If you put six people in a meeting room and give them a goal, for example coming up with a name for a new product, each person is going to be held accountable if that goal isn’t reached. Those who did the work will be able to point to those who sat there in silence and hold them accountable for the fact that the goal wasn’t reached. Personal accountability leads to motivation and the larger the group, the less people are held accountable for their actions or lack thereof.
The more people, the less support each person receives
In a smaller group, each person is easily able to communicate with one another. This means that when one person is in need of help, whether it be technical assistance or clarification on the goal of a project, they, firstly, know who to speak to and, secondly, are able to do so quickly and efficiently. It’s also easier for a meeting facilitator or team lead to see who in the room needs support or encouragement.
When there is a large group of people, it can be difficult for each person to know who exactly is an expert at what. They may have to ask a few people before they find the right person to answer their questions. This takes time and robs everyone in the room of productivity. The fewer people there are, the easier it is for them to offer each other support.
So, when you’re next organizing a project kick-off meeting or a strategy session to bring new clients onboard, make sure you can feed everyone without having to order more than two pizzas from Lombardi’s.