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The Power of Small Meetings

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“Bigger is better.”  That’s the old saying, isn’t it?  When it comes to getting tasks accomplished in an organization, some believe more people equals more ideas and more potential for success.  But studies have shown the opposite to be true - that small teams and smaller meetings are more effective than large ones when tasked with a project.

In fact, the power of small meetings has been well-documented. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that companies who reduce the number of people in their meetings see a significant increase in productivity.

It makes sense when you think about it – with fewer people in the room, there are fewer distractions and more opportunities for everyone to contribute.  There are rarely silent voices when participants feel they have a meaningful opportunity to contribute.
While it's often necessary to bring teams and executives together to agree on goals and provide status updates, it's clear meetings are the one element where quality displaces quantity in terms of importance.  Meeting for the sake of holding a meeting is a waste of everyone's time and team members resent it.

How many meetings have you been part of where the agenda was redundant or, at the extreme, totally irrelevant to what you do? Employees often joke and complain about how soul-sucking and painful such meetings are overall. Meetings that should have been an email are particularly bothersome.  These ineffective meetings have detrimental consequences for teams and organizations.
For some tips on how we can winnow the invite list for truly productive meeting outcomes, here are some tips from our conference planning manager, Ashley Moneypenny.

Making Meetings Meaningful: The Benefits of Micro Meetings

While larger meetings can be helpful for mass information sharing, smaller meetings are more effective for brainstorming and solution finding. That’s because smaller gatherings are more intimate, allowing for more back-and-forth discussion and collaboration.
In a small meeting, everyone has a chance to voice their opinion and offer their unique perspective. This is especially important for introverts, who often feel overshadowed and stay quiet in larger groups. When given an opportunity to speak up in a smaller setting, introverts can offer insights that might otherwise be lost.  Likewise, participants who may feel less inclined to speak up in a crowd, find the relationships and comfort levels developed in a small group to be the perfect environment for sharing what they would most like to contribute.

Yet another benefit of small meetings is that they force people to be more prepared. With fewer people in the room, there's less margin for error and the unprepared participant will feel uncomfortable. As a result, attendees are more likely to come to the table with concrete ideas and solutions - or at least a well thought out set of ideas to share.

Ashley says, "If you have a lot to accomplish, get the key people together in a downsized environment." She goes on to say, "when you get too many opinions in a room, it's hard to nail down an action plan going forward. With a micro meeting, there's an intentional purpose and less people to navigate in getting there."

You don't want there to be too much conversation and not a lot of intention.

Who Should be Included in a Micro Meeting?

Deciding who not to include in a meeting can be challenging, which is why too many managers default to including everyone. And in an effort to make everyone feel included, they unknowingly diminish the quality of the meeting.  Contrast this with a micro meeting of 8 - 40 carefully considered participants. The group members feel a social responsibility to one another and together they contribute to the shared goal.

When you're putting together a micro meeting, it's important to consider who will be most impacted by the decisions being made. These are the people who need to be in the room.  Ashley says, “you really want to make sure these folks are the ones able to make movements on initiatives and can help make change happen.”

To get started, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who will be directly affected by the decisions made in this meeting?
  • Who has the expertise or knowledge to contribute to this discussion?
  • Who can help move the needle on this issue?

Chances are, the people you need in the room are not the same people you'd invite to a large meeting. And that's OK. The goal is to create an intimate environment where everyone can actively participate in the discussion.  And don’t overlook the less-obvious choices either.  Sometimes, those with the most to contribute aren’t asked to do so and their voices are never heard.
Small meetings are easier to facilitate and coordinate. They foster an environment that creates a shared sense of unity, which opens the floor to more meaningful and candid discussion.

And on that note, consider gathering your stakeholders in an off-site venue, even if you have a meeting room on your business premises. Holding micro or macro meetings externally from time to time minimizes distractions leading to more creative and effective meetings.

How to Keep Your Meetings a Manageable Size

The people you invite are just as important in a meeting as what you need to get done. So, who should you invite to your small meetings? Generally, you want your sessions to include:

  • One or two subject matter experts on the topics under discussion
  • The key decision-makers for the issues involved
  • A success owner – the person who’ll follow through on the ideas and coordinate efforts towards completing the action items
  • People who have a stake in the decisions to be made and are open to sharing feedback and ideas
  • Those who need to know about the information to do their jobs

Ultimately, you'll want to bring together people with diverse ideas or opinions. Although it might be easier, a room full of people who all agree isn’t always the most impactful.  Primarily, they should all have experience and deep knowledge of the topics on the meeting agenda. Consensus may come later. So, ask yourself: Who must be present for this discussion to yield results?

Examples of Successful Micro Meetings at Wingspread

Here at Wingspread, we're proud to have been host to many impactful micro meetings over our 65-plus years in our private campus-like environment.  The list is long, but a couple of our earliest conferences you are sure to recognize.

  • Wingspread Conference on the Arts (1962)
  • Seeking ‘intellectual and cultural growth”, a small group of arts administrators, critics, scholars and artists gathered at Wingpsread to consider ways of fostering the arts in America.  Despite their wide-ranging views, conferees managed to agreed to support a resolution asking for federal support for examining the condition and future of the arts in America.
  • The result?  In 1965 Congress passed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act.  The bill established both the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.
  • Educational Radio as a National Resource Conference (1966)
  • This small group of conferees sought to convince Congress that the pending Public Television Act should be expanded to include Radio. With television technology quickly pushing radio programming into obscurity, the future of radio was in great jeopardy.  But together, the conferees urged, public television and radio broadcasting would set forth a vision that went beyond routine instructional content.  Public broadcasting would address “all that is of human interest and importance” that commercial broadcasting would not or could not support.
  • The result? In 1969, National Public Radio (NPR) was founded and we continue to enjoy its educational and public interest content to this day.

There are literally hundreds of examples.  In fact, at any point in time it isn’t difficult to find a small group of people making a big difference at a Wingspread conference.

Our mission here at Wingspread has always been to streamline the meeting process so these organizations can focus on what's important: their goals. They want to dig in and we're here to help make that happen.  We start with the end in mind.  If the meeting results in actionable items that move the organization forward, everyone wins.

Ashley says, "being someone whose career has entailed helping convene meaningful groups through my role as a meeting planner, you want to gather people and take away all of the distractions and everything that they have to usually think about. You've got to take stuff off  their plate so that they can fully  be engaged in the meeting and not worry about what they're having for lunch or, any other of the small details that go with getting a group together."

In Conclusion

Hosting a smaller meeting isn’t to say you can’t add more people if you think they will add value to the discussion or gain value by being there. The point of holding micro meetings isn't to have a few people in the room; it's to have the right people in the room. It's about freeing up distractions and getting to the heart of the matter.

Want better results? Plan a better meeting. Hold your executive meetings at the Wingspread Retreat & Executive Conference Center and discover how the right location, with the right amenities, can lead to better decisions. We'll work with you to ensure your meeting is a success.