• James Walton

One Formula and 3 Questions for More Effective Meetings

Everyone seems to hate meetings, but it doesn't need to be this way.

To be sure, meetings can exact a heavy tax. Done poorly, meetings torpedo productivity, stifle interaction, and create apathy. But done well, meetings amplify the group's effort, generate innovation through conversation, and solve the most important challenges.

One antidote to terrible meetings is to make the meeting's purpose clear.

The purpose of the meeting determines who needs to be there. And limiting the group to just who needs to be there is the best first step to having a more productive meeting. For instance:

  • Ad hoc meetings and one on ones are ideal for personal communication. Note however, to never discuss in a group setting what should reserved for a 1:1. Praise in public, correct in private.

  • Team meetings range from 3 to 12 participants, though some imagine that having as many as 15 in a group still allows for productive and meaningful conversation where all voices are included. It does not.

  • Anything larger than 20 should only be used for disseminating information or encouragement of the group.

Smaller is better when robust conversation is needed to make decisions. There’s no magic number, but large enough to provide diversity of perspective, while small enough to maintain continuity of relationship between group members.

Once you know what you want to accomplish with the meeting, reverse engineer the number of relationships required to accomplish your objective.

The tricky thing is that there's a non-linear relationship between the number of people present in a meeting, and the number of relationships connecting the parties. So every additional member adds more than you think.

For instance, if you and I have a 1:1 meeting, there's two of us (N=2) , but only 1 relationship (R=1). That's why the 1:1 is the most important managerial behavior to implement if you want to build a healthy relationship with your direct.

A small group meeting has 4 members but now there are 6 relationships between all the members. Interaction here is vibrant and personal, there's enough time and space to engage with one another.

By the time you've got 8 in a room, there's 28 relationships in play. If your goal is to build rapport between members, you're already stretching what's possible at this size.

And here we've gone full conference room. There's 120 different relationships present. At this size and above, you're best off making the meeting purely informational or inspirational. Asking for input and facilitating conversation is perhaps possible, but better left for a smaller focus group.

To determine the number of relationships present in a meeting, use the formula R = [N x (N-1) / 2 ] where R is the number of relationships present and N is the number of people.

3 Questions to Audit Your Meeting's Effectiveness

  1. Are you clear on the purpose of the meeting? (Unhelpful responses include: "we've always done one at this time" and "I've got to make sure everyone's on task")

  2. Are the people on the invite list clear as to why they are there, what they are expected to bring to the table, and what they're responsible for afterwards?

  3. Are you using your meetings as an opportunity to develop leaders? There's something powerful to being in the room where it happens. Inviting a high-potential candidate to shadow your next team meeting strengthens the leadership capacity of your organization.

To learn more about how the work of the Trellis Group can help you reduce chaos, increase productivity and grow your team, visit trellisgroup.co


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