Back when the pandemic was in full swing and things seemed especially dark, a meme began circulating online that said (and we’re paraphrasing here!) that if there’s one thing we could learn from this experience, it was that most meetings could easily be accomplished in an email! As more and more businesses began to navigate a return to work, the popularity of the meme would suggest that much of America’s workforce would enjoy a continued reprieve from their pre-pandemic meeting schedule. But is cutting back on meetings a feasible task? And if you do cut back, how do you decide who comes and goes?
Well, as with most things in life, it turns out good ol’ Amazon might just have a solution for that! You see, even before Covid-19 made its debut, CEO Jeff Bezos instituted a quirky yet effective rule: No meeting should be so large that two pizzas can’t feed the whole group.
Now, if you’re busy calculating how much pizza you would eat on a given day, as well as the anticipated slice needs of your peers, you’re not alone! In fact, this was the first question to come up and it’s also one that we can turn to another trusted source to answer: Google! Indeed, an online pizza calculator exists – likely not for this exact purpose – but nonetheless, it purports that the average adult eats two- to three- slices in any single sitting. Therefore, a regular pizza with eight slices feeds three to four people, thus the two pizza rule would suggest that no meeting at Amazon include more than 8 people (and more than likely can be successful with as few as three!)
Working on this theory, you may be thinking that you have to seriously scale back all your meetings, but this rule actually only applies to some gatherings. You see, there is a time and a place for those company-wide or department-wide meetings, such as if you’re launching a new product, taking the business in an exciting new direction, or summarizing the results of a fiscal year or quarter. Indeed, the dangers of too many cooks in the kitchen is really most apparent when clear, concrete decisions need to be made, including conversations involving strategizing or long-term planning.
To better understand the issues with larger meetings and why a smaller guest list typically yields better results, we turned to the pros at the Harvard Business Review. According to their analysis, large meetings are problematic because there is not enough time for everyone to actively participate in the conversation, which in turn stymies deep conversation and leads only to shallow comments as folks become more guarded. In addition, subject choice and the time allocated to discuss them typically changes depending on meeting size, with the focus shifting away from information sharing and catch-ups. Instead limited to high priority issues, and even then, the actual decision-making progress and any related tough conversations are generally dealt with offline. The meetings themselves begin to feel ineffectual, which in turn fosters resentment among those present because ultimately, they aren’t really a terribly good use of folks’ time!
By sticking to a smaller group, Harvard Business Review notes that it “helps build a sense of intimacy that opens the floor to a meaningful and candid discussion. Fewer people mean more time to listen to and consider the perspective of each team member. Clarity and candor emerge. Alignment follows.” To pull off the smaller crowd — without hurting feelings — they recommend that you take the following steps.
Shout it from the rooftops
If you’ve previously been a “come one, come all” kind of company and all of a sudden stop inviting everyone to meetings, folks are bound to grow suspicious very quickly! Before you implement the change, let everyone know that moving forward, your meetings are going to be smaller in an attempt to improve efficiency. Let your staff know that you are aware of how much time was spent on meetings and share with them the research (here’s a great overview of numerous studies) proving that smaller meetings tend to lead to better outcomes. Emphasize that this is a new process for your business and you may need to experiment with different sizes and groups before you hit on the right number and that open and honest feedback is always welcome.
Get a guest list
As with any big event, you need to figure out which people you want in the room! To best whittle down your options, first, think about the purpose and agenda of the meeting. What problem are you looking to address and what are your anticipated discussion points? From there, ask yourself who needs to be present to best facilitate this discussion. Who has knowledge of the issue, who are the involved parties (individuals or departments) and who needs to be present in order for a decision to be reached? Further, you should also think about which key players you would have to cancel the meeting for should they not be able to attend or are there any worthy substitutes that could take their place? Based on these findings, you can begin sending out invites and then tinker with adding more folks who you think will add to the conversation or otherwise inform the decision-making process.
Begin with a briefing
In order to be most effectual during the meeting, consider sharing a list of responsibilities for folks who are in attendance. HBR recommends that you encourage participants to take ownership of their viewpoints and be prepared to share them in a manner that is clear, concise, and relevant. Further, participants should be reminded to practice focused listening whereby they are attentive, patient, and respectful. Also to practice self-awareness in their responses such that they are moving the conversation forward in a thoughtful way and in a manner that is most likely to achieve results. Now is also the time to remind folks that the smaller meeting size may mean that they are serving as representatives for their department or division and ask them to consider the perspectives of those who are not present, including what questions they might ask, what they would want to be consulted on, how any actions may alter their workflow or day-to-day operations, and how they might like any information communicated to them post-meeting.
If folks decline to attend the meeting but due to the smaller size, you still feel that their input would be relevant, include a requirement that they review the agenda and provide any relevant information or viewpoints they may want to have considered to an individual who will be in attendance. Post-meeting, ask that they review any meeting minutes or otherwise check in with attendees about the results of the get-together and then take steps to implement any tasks or changes that were agreed upon in the meeting and be prepared to disseminate the information accordingly to other staff.
Welcome the feedback
As with any big change that you usher in, the chances of nailing it right out of the gate are pretty much slim to none. As such, we recommend that you take the time to evaluate the effectiveness of meetings by polling staff about their experience and what they would like to see moving forward to make sure meetings are as efficient as possible. Based on their feedback, tweak your process and continue to reevaluate until you hit on a recipe for consistent meeting success! Would you consider scaling back the size of your meetings?