Think small: the hows and whys of holding smaller meetings

Read Time: 6 minutes

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Doodle Content Team

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Four happy people sitting in a meeting room and work

Streamlining and simplifying: in 2018, whether you’re part of a small start-up or a huge multinational, it’s likely your business is concentrating on keeping things lean, flexible, and adaptable. But while you’re condensing your communications, trimming your budget, and optimising your workflows, don’t forget to focus on your meetings, too.

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Why hold smaller meetings?

The advantages to holding smaller meetings are clear. Scaling down for your next meeting will force you to really focus on your invite list. Who needs to be there? Whose input will be valuable? Who will bring a unique perspective to the issues on the agenda? Inviting a key group of people, who are all invested in the outcome of the meeting, will guarantee that the discussion is informed and on-target. And no-one will be sitting through a meeting where their input is neither needed nor relevant – meaning no-one will come away feeling the meeting was a pointless exercise, taking time away from more pressing work.

Smaller meetings keep attendees motivated. A recent Gallup survey showed that employees in small companies (think 10 people or less) have the most engaged employees. What’s more, engagement levels were markedly lower for employees in larger companies. The same holds true for meetings: the larger the meeting, the less likely the participants are to feel personally accountable for its progress or outcomes.

And, quite simply, smaller meetings tend to be quicker and more constructive. With fewer voices to be heard, discussion moves at a faster pace. And a leaner group can come to an agreement, or nail down a strategy, in less time than a larger one.

When to do it?

While there are lots of meetings that clearly benefit from downsizing, like brainstorming sessions and strategy meetings, there are others where scaling down might be counterproductive. Team updates and info-sharing sessions, where the communication mostly flows one way, aren’t the best candidates for a smaller guest list.

How to do it?

So, how small should a small meeting be? The magic number is seven attendees, give or take one or two. Any fewer than five and it might be hard to generate energy and enthusiasm in your discussions; any more than nine and its likely not everyone will have the chance to meaningfully contribute. Or, you could always remember Jeff Bezos’s ‘Two Pizza Rule’: the Amazon CEO is a famous proponent of small meetings, and reportedly believes that if it takes more than two pizzas to feed everyone at a meeting, then the meeting is too big. Of course, you don’t need to actually order two pizzas to enforce the rule…but it might not hurt!

People are eating pizza during a meeting

Managing the shift

Even if the benefits of smaller meetings are clear, if you work in a company where larger meetings are the norm you might need to be delicate when it comes to downsizing. You’ll need to avoid bruised egos while also keeping communications flowing.

Tell your team that a shift in meeting culture is coming, and make the reasons for the shift clear. That way, when someone finds themselves ‘uninvited’ to a meeting they regularly attend, they won’t take it personally.

Be strategic with your invites list. Don’t automatically invite someone just because they hold a senior role. Aim for diverse perspectives, and avoid inviting attendees who will simply amplify existing opinions. And don’t invite the same small group to every meeting: shake things up!

Set a clear communications strategy in place. Circulate meeting minutes and outcomes promptly and ensure meeting attendees understand they are responsible for conveying the meeting’s content to others on the team.

One Small Step…

Consider making your next meeting a smaller one: odds are that it will be shorter, more productive, and more engaging. And if that doesn’t convince you, maybe this will: in a small meeting, there’s no fighting over that last slice of pizza!

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