Here's How Many People Can Be In a Meeting Before It's Unproductive, According to Harvard

Employees gathered for work meeting


Leah Thomas
Leah Thomas866
May 28, 2024 at 1:18PM UTC
Meetings are at peak production level when there are fewer people involved — specifically, no more than eight, according to Harvard Business Review.
Smaller groups build a sense of intimacy that allows group members to be more communicative and create a livelier discussion, according to recent research by Robert Sutton, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University. Fewer people also creates more time for each person's viewpoint to be highlighted and heard.
Larger meetings are often the result of managers wanting to be inclusive with the invitation list. Not wanting to leave any employee out, managers end up sacrificing quality of the meeting by increasing the number of people involved. And, according to Sutton, the most productive meeting contains five to eight people. At more than eight people, the conversation and the productivity level begins to decline in a number of ways. Not everyone is able to participate in the conversation. The meeting may lack substantial back-and-forth debate Unproductive conversation like personal sharing and catch-ups create distractions from business discussions. People become shyer and less likely to speak their minds, and tough topics are not discussed and tough decisions are not made.
Inevitably, people lose respect for the meeting altogether, leaving many involved frustrated — making it nearly impossible to accomplish all of the meeting's goals and potentially forcing another meeting to be held. In order to prevent the chaos that comes with overcrowded meetings, initiate smaller group discussions. But make sure to go about this change in the right way.
Be transparent:
Be transparent with your staff about the change. Tell them you are decreasing the number of people invited to specific meetings in order to increase productivity levels at said meetings. Point them to the research that backs up your decision about groups with eight people or less. And tell them not to take it personally if they are not included in a meeting they previously would have been included in.
Be strategic with your invite lists:
Your goal is now to increase productivity, which can only be done by including the right people in the room for each topic. Ask yourself who has the most knowledge about the subject of discussion, who will be working on the implementation of a decision, who will be directly impacted by decisions made, and who might learn from participating. Have a clear idea of what the meeting will be focused on and what will be discussed, so you can narrow your inclusivity to the perfect staff members.
Encourage active participation:
According to Harvard Business Review, you should encourage your employees to take ownership of their ideas. Encourage them not only to speak their minds but also to listen patiently and attentively. And -- in order to further increase productivity -- encourage them to be concise in their points. Have a clearly formed idea before sharing it with the group.
Monitor success:
Ensure your newly implemented meetings are working. Collect feedback and continue to alter your plan as necessary. Every company and every team is different. Make sure you are implementing the right changes for your group, and make sure your employees are both benefiting from and enjoying your new management style.

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