Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0308, July 24, 2007 ....
 

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As facilitators, we're inclined to appreciate maximal involvement and input from our participants. But in meetings and working groups, is "The more, the merrier" the most prudent philosophy? In this week's article, we briefly review research findings on the size of meetings and how this simple but important parameter can effect your success.

The Journey of Facilitation and Collaboration Workshop. FacilitatorU.com, in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin, is announcing the "Journey of Collaboration Workshop," a live facilitation training based on 20 archetypes of the Integral Facilitator. Please see full details at the end of this issue.

Have a great week!

Steve Davis
Publisher and Founder of FacilitatorU.com



 
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The Point

How many is enough?
Plan group size
based on meeting purpose.

Logistics Skill


A element often overlooked when designing a meeting is the "size" of the meeting. The impact of "meeting size" was one of the many elements addressed in an excellent analysis presented by Nicholas Romano and Jay Nunamaker at the 34th Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences in 2001. In this paper, the following key points about meeting size were discovered:

  • Meeting size should be as small as possible while yielding as many points of view as possible to avoid groupthink.

  • An uneven number of participants can prevent deadlock.

  • Groups smaller than five lack the broad mix of expertise required to efficiently handle tasks.

  • Groups larger than seven have complicated group dynamics.

  • The median number of participants in most meetings is nine.

  • The larger the group, the more structure is required.

So how does this help us determine the number of people to invite to our meetings? Besides offering general guidelines around numbers, does meeting size have anything to do with meeting purpose? As it turns out, it certainly does.



Application


One source in this study, "How to Make Meetings Work," by Doyle and Strauss, suggests the following guidelines for appropriate meeting sizes based on meeting purpose.

How many are enough?

  • Meetings of 2-7 participants. In my experience in the work world, I often heard seasoned experts say that meetings larger than around 7-9 people were often counterproductive. Doyle and Strauss agree that there are many advantages to restricting meetings to this size, typical of staff meetings or working groups. Groups of this size are easier to assemble and manage, they tend to be flexible and informal, and problems can be easily addressed. They also suggest however, that only a few viewpoints can be addressed in a meeting of this size which can lead to lower quality decisions and that the meeting might lack the critical mass required to achieve the best creative solutions.

  • Meetings of 7-15 participants. Doyle and Strauss suggest that this is the ideal group size for decision-making and problem-solving meetings. Advantages are that all participants can be easily involved, everyone's thoughts can be communicated; it's small enough to be informal but large enough to include a facilitator and scribe; and this seems to be the size that best creates group synergy. The disadvantage of this group size is that the increased complexity requires significant structure and the introduction of a formal facilitator and method of recording.

  • Meetings of 15-30 participants. Doyle and Strauss suggest that "most meetings should have no more than 15 participants," due to the increase in complexity and need for professional facilitation. This of course becomes a selling point for us as facilitators as research shows this size of a meeting tends to be unproductive without one.

  • Meetings of 30 or more participants. Doyle and Strauss suggests that meetings of 30 or more work well for lectures, panel discussions, formal debates, and voting. As facilitators, we know that small group break out sessions combined with large group debrief can work well with groups of this size and much larger. Also, large group meeting methods such as open space technology, future search, and others work well at effectively tapping into the knowledge and experience of large groups.

Who do I invite?

Now that we're clear on how many participants are best to accomplish your meeting purpose, it makes sense to invite the "right" participants based on your purpose. Here are some questions to ask about your prospective meeting participants to help you improve your outcomes.

  • Who shares interests in the meeting objective? Who will be impacted by the points or decisions I'm bringing forward? Can I enlist their help?

  • Who has opposing interests? Would it be beneficial to have these interests represented at the meeting to assure all the bases are covered?
  • Whose attendance might prove unproductive or unnecessary? Can I uninvite them or avoid inviting them in the first place?

  • Are you inviting the right mix of people? Are the appropriate decision makers, experts, implementers, and stakeholders invited to enable post meeting action?

  • Who’s missing? Can I get them invited?

The next time you're planning a meeting or have input into it's planning, consider the guidelines above together with your meeting purpose to determine the right mix and the right number of people to maximize your success.


Action
 
How does meeting size and makeup fit into your experience as a facilitator, leader, or meeting participant? I'd love to hear you're perspectives and experiences. Just click reply and type them directly into this email.

Resource


How to Make Meetings Work, by Michael Doyle and David Strauss

Although at first glance I was skeptical, this book provided great insight into running a meeting that participants will actually enjoy and get something out of. It was not just a repeat of the things I already knew. After reading this book and implementing some of the ideas, people noticed the improvements from clear agendas which stated the purpose, to the approach used during the meeting to make sure we were all aligned and in agreement on what we were to achieve. I highly recommend this book. --Anonymous Reader--


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In the Spotlight

Journey of Collaboration and Facilitation Workshop


Join us for a powerful journey into the complex world of facilitation and collaboration. During this workshop, you will be introduced to a comprehensive model for facilitation, one that balances “hard” and “soft” skills.

Using hands-on, multi-modal approaches, we’ll take you beyond theory to walk the path of mastery using a holistic set of facilitation competencies. These competencies are based on a new model encompassing twenty archetypes of the integral facilitator, informed by the "integral" philosophy of Ken Wilber.

Upon completion of the workshop, each “sojourner” will be awarded a professional certificate in Integral Facilitation and Collaboration from UW-Madison.

Group collaboration is an art and science whose time has come…

Overall, 36% of a company’s profitability, innovation, quality, and growth
are due to its Collaboration Index.

—Frost and Sullivan White Paper Sponsored by Verizon and Microsoft—

Instructors: Steve Davis, Darin Harris, Harry Webne-Behrman

Sponsored by: A partnership between FacilitatorU.com and the UW-Madison Offices of Human Resource Development and Quality Improvement

Registration: Register early, as space is limited to 25 participants. Click here to register or contact Harry Webne-Behrman at (608) 262-9934.

Price: The price for the 5-day workshop and Learning Community Calls is $750.

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