If you want a collaborative meeting, you need to plan to have a few people in the room and the right people in the room.

Collaborative meetings are not large meetings. They are difficult to be productive. There’s too many people in the room. Dominant personalities take over with discussion between each other. The rest of the attendees say very little or nothing at all.

Large meetings have their place for communicating information to many people at once, but they don’t provide the conditions for collaboration. They only become collaborative when the meeting breaks up into smaller groups. Breakout groups can be intentionally planned such as in a workshop, or they are a result of a dysfunctional meeting.

Small meetings are more collaborative. You can hear each person’s viewpoint. Ideas can be refined through discussion between fewer people. Miscommunications can be more easily corrected. There’s less cognitive load as there are fewer people to engage.

What’s the optimal size for a collaborative meeting? Robert Sutton, professor of organisational behaviour at Standford University say’s between five and eight attendees. This allows people to form connections, even if for the duration of the meeting. This means you need to give more consideration to who to invite, attendees that can contribute value to the intended outcomes of the meeting. Who should you invite to your meeting if you want it to have a collaborative meeting?

  • A subject matter expert or two – they have experience and deep knowledge of the topics in the meeting agenda.
  • A success owner – This person will ‘make things happen.’ They follow through with the ideas and coordinate efforts towards completing action items.
  • People who are open to share feedback and ideas. They have a stake in the topics on the agenda, experience but they aren’t experts. Their feedback and opinions will help refine the discussion and give a reality-check to the points raised.

When meetings are smaller, they are easier to facilitate and coordinate. It’s easier to keep discussion flowing with seven or less people than it is with fifteen.

It’s also easier to find a time in common for people to meet for smaller collaborative meetings. The Scheduling Assistant is perfect for proposing a time that suits everybody based on their availability. In this video, I step through how to use the Scheduling Assistant in Outlook on the Web, from Microsoft Teams in a web browser, and from the Outlook mobile app.

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