Overcome “The Big Meeting Paradox”

Many customers tell me that their business has become more complex in the course of time due to shorter product life cycles, a global supply chain and increased competition. A typical reaction of many project managers is to increase the number of meeting participants. The logic is obvious: The more complex a topic gets, the more brains are needed to solve it, right?

The more the better?
This approach of “more is better” in the context of meeting attendees can be a dangerous trap though. To explain this, let’s look at Contribution Time Per Attendee (CTPA). In an one-hour meeting, 5 participants can contribute 12 minutes each (on average). With 30 participants, CTPA goes down from 12 to 2. I call this effect “The Big Meeting Paradox”: While adding people (and with it, cost per headcount) you receive less input from each individual. Certainly, the 2 minutes per contributor is just a mathematical average. In reality, some attendees will still talk 10 minutes and more, while others stay silent. And that’s the issue: If the purpose of a meeting was to jointly build or solve something, silent attendees can’t add any value. We didn’t work together to accomplish the goals for this meeting.

To be fair, there are ways and methods to gather input from a larger audience as well, using tools like sticky notes or instant survey systems. But this kind of meeting requires preparation and a skilled facilitator. If you can’t plan for skillfully incorporating input from a large team, you should refrain from just “adding brains.” Carefully select the group of people that is most capable of achieving the meeting goals. As a rule of thumb, try to limit a meeting to six attendees or fewer.

Before sending meeting invites, always start with writing down a set of precise meeting goals. Then, make sure to organize a small meeting of smart people. If necessary, make sure that a decision maker will be present as well, so that the agreed action items can go into execution mode right away. When a large meeting is unavoidable, it deserves a skilled facilitator and enough time to execute successfully.

Tobias Windbrake
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About Tobias Windbrake

Tobias works as Collaboration Consultant in the EMEA & APAC region. He joined SMART seven years ago, initially managing SMART’s training business. Based on this experience, he strongly believes in ease-of-use and simplicity as an essential factor for technology adoption - the core requirement for ROI. Tobias holds a Master’s degree in Computer Science, and was running his own software company before joining SMART.