Small-groups as the antidote to bad meetings

small-groups antidote for bad meetingsBad meetings, meetings from hell, or whatever you want to call them, we’ve all experienced those and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you experience bad meetings in a daily basis. While there are endless tips, blog posts and even books about how to have good meetings and ways to avoid meetings from hell, none of the advice seems to fix the underlying issue. Most people who attend meetings don’t need to be there. If you look at most articles about making your meetings more successful and productive, they tell you to have an agenda, to have a clear objective, to use time wisely, to store distractions in a “parking lot”, to have shorter meetings, etc… However, the reason we have to do all of those things is because in most meetings, you have people who are not supposed to be there, people who don’t bring any value to the meeting, and people who either don’t have interest in the topic being discussed or the knowledge to help and contribute to the meeting.

The solution for successful meetings as it is for successful projects is a small group. Yes, start with small groups of smart people, and keep them small. Here are some tips to avoid meetings AND projects from hell by sticking to the small-group principle.

  • Spectators are not welcome.
  • Everyone in the room should be there for a reason.
  • A small group of people is not enough. Make sure you have a small group of smart people who can contribute to the topic at hand.

If you follow the small-group principle above, you will avoid the following which are the result of meetings with large groups:

  • Get sidetracked and lose focus.
  • Squander valuable time and water down great ideas.
  • Negative messages about your company and ourselves, due to bad meeting experiences.
  • Team-based companies do most of their work in meetings.
  • Meetings that drag on endlessly and unnecessarily.

The idea with small groups is simple and while it makes sense, many companies don’t follow it due to an instinctive and misguided principle: the more critical the project, the more people must be thrown at it. This is wrong and it is the reason many large companies are not as productive as smaller ones.

Another sad truth is that having too many unnecessary or overpopulated meetings can rob even the most brilliant people of their creative energy and enthusiasm. Avoid that.

The larger the group of people involved in a meeting or project, the more complicated it is to keep people up to speed, more hand-holding is required, the more time must be spent reviewing participant’s work, and the most difficult it is to offer useful feedback. Smaller groups offer the most efficient way to succeed – assuming that you have the right people in the meeting and/or project.

A small group of the right people would always take a meeting seriously. In contrast, when you have a meeting with a large group of people, it is hard to have everyone take the meeting seriously as people would arrive late, leave early, have side-conversations, check their phones often, etc… When you see this in your meeting – it is a clear sign that the perpetrators shouldn’t be part of your meeting. People get distracted when they have no interest in a topic or don’t have anything of value to add. People with interest in a meeting and with the knowledge and experience to participate, don’t need to be pressured to participate, they just do.

The small-group principle requires enforcement, but it’s worth it. Everyone would be much more enthusiastic about attending a meeting and as a result, your meetings will be more successful. Also, you won’t need to follow the endless advice about having good meetings as most of it fixes what is in fact caused by having meetings with a large group of people or people who shouldn’t be part of the meeting in the first place.

Remember: The same danger exists for ideas and projects at the mercy of a large group of approvers or decision makers. The small-group principle is always a great way to do this instead. A large company can benefit from the small-group principle by splitting their teams into smaller groups to work on projects and to create and execute ideas.


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