Start your free trial

The More the Merrier? Not Necessarily When It Comes to Successful Meetings

Have you ever planned – or been to - a gathering that you thought was going to be one of the “best nights of your life” kind of events? But when the evening comes, the DJ's late and plays the worst music ever, the venue's crowded and loud, the plus-ones have brought plus-ones and some drunk guy you’ve never met is giving a toast (wait, wasn’t this supposed to be your promotion party?). You’re now regretting that “bring whoever!” attitude you were enthusiastically texting everyone, wishing instead you had celebrated at your favorite dive bar with a couple of close mates.

The “More The Merrier” Fallacy

This, my friends, is the “more the merrier” dilemma, and it doesn’t just happen at parties. In fact, this “more the merrier” attitude can cost businesses big time when it comes to their meeting culture – inviting employees to meetings at which they are not relevant, wasting time and resources: yours, theirs’ and your company’s.

Ineffective Meetings Are Costly

Consider the high costs of these “invite all” meetings: According to research, bad meetings cost an estimated $399 billion for enterprises in 2019. These costs were mostly due to salary or labor costs, where employees attended unnecessary meetings, had their workflow interrupted, or otherwise made them lose focus on important projects among other things.

Sounds expensive, right? That’s why it’s imperative to create the perfect invite list and agenda for your meetings – so no one feels irrelevant to the meeting, no one’s time is wasted and everyone feels productive and inspired.

That’s not to say that a crazy night out with an inebriated DJ and your mate’s best friend’s sister’s cousin is not always a good time. However, you may be left with a too-large bar tab and a hangover. Similarly, employees who leave pointless meetings can have a sort of meeting hangover, wondering “where did the time go?” and needing even more time to recover from meeting fatigue.

This is why you can think of successful meetings like successful parties. Your primary guests will attend, the event size will not swell to include outliers (or fillers) and you will have enough time to have meaningful interactions with each guest. Additionally, you aren’t shelling out unnecessary time and resources to feed and cater to anyone superfluous.

Essentially, in meetings, it’s important to eliminate the bloat. A perfect invite list is paramount to your meeting success – and assigning roles, schedules, and expectations will lead to overall satisfaction for everyone involved.

The Reality Of Meetings Today

Oftentimes, meeting leaders operate under the assumption that meetings increase in effectiveness as they increase in size. The more people in the meeting results in increased brainpower, more ideas, additional resources, and diverse perspectives. Seems logical, right?

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Research finds that having too many attendees can actually reduce meeting effectiveness. When meetings are unnecessarily large, there can be too many voices (where attendees feel they are not being heard), logistical challenges (speakers interrupting one another), and even social loafing (people falling under the radar, losing focus, multitasking, etc.). With too many possibly unengaged attendees, you’re going to end up with lots of wallflowers and an empty dance floor, so to speak.

Consequently, meeting leaders should strive to make their meetings as lean as possible – while still achieving the meeting's goals and objectives. Just like hosting the perfect party – make it intimate, memorable and leave guests energized.

So, given this insight, how do leaders decide just who to invite to their meetings?

Primary Vs. Secondary Guests

First and foremost, the meeting leader should consider the type of meeting (e.g., leadership, project, team, strategy) being held, and decide on the goals and objectives of the meeting. This will inform the structure and composition of the meeting.

The leader should then consider the following two questions:

  • Who are key decision-makers and/or stakeholders relevant to all topics?
  • Who are the people who will implement or act on any decisions made?

Answering the above questions will help the leader identify necessary – or primary  - attendees. These are the people that are highly relevant to the entire meeting – from start to finish.

Once this list of key stakeholders is established, the leader can then reflect on optional (secondary) attendees. These are the folks that could benefit from being present during parts of the meeting. Or, perhaps they are relevant to only one or two topics on the agenda. Either way, these participants do not need to be present for the entirety of the meeting. Resist the temptation to invite these secondary attendees for the full duration of the meeting. Doing so will save your business time in salary costs as your employees could be accomplishing other tasks rather than sitting in parts of a meeting that’s irrelevant to them.

Continuing to think of a meeting as a good social gathering, you can think of plus-ones or especially unique or eccentric guests as secondary participants. They may not be necessary for the gathering to proceed, but they could bring spice and unexpected contributions. They are the experts who will bring in a fresh perspective, an exciting report or inspiration to the team. They may not be at every strategy meeting, but their presence at a particular project meeting may motivate more creative thinking, alongside relevant expertise.

When you are deciding on secondary attendees, consider the following:

  • Who has relevant knowledge and information about topics on the agenda?
  • Who has unique expertise on topics on the agenda (e.g., presenters)?

Answering these questions will inform the leader who should be present for portions of the meeting, but not necessarily critical attendees for the entirety of the meeting. In this case, the meeting leader could consider inviting the primary attendees for the full duration of the meeting, while inviting more secondary attendees to pop in for portions of the meeting that are of relevance to them.

For example, let’s say Sarah has unique knowledge & expertise for agenda items 3 and 4, she could join the meeting for the discussion of these two items, and then leave. This gives Sarah time back while also reducing the overall size of the meeting.

This strategy also signals that you care, as a meeting leader, and you are respectful of your teams’ time. This is the best approach for being highly inclusive without feeling overloaded with too many attendees – especially when operating on a virtual platform with limited bandwidth.

Use the Agenda to Accommodate Primary Vs. Secondary Guests

A supplemental approach to this is to order the agenda items such that the first items are relevant to the larger group of folks (all attendees; both primary and secondary). So, place presentations and the sharing of unique knowledge or information first. After those first few items are completed, the secondary attendees may leave, and the remaining individuals continue on with the meeting.

Note that it is extremely important that the leader respects secondary attendees, viewing their presence and contributions as just as important as those in primary attendance. The leader also must stick to scheduled times throughout the meeting, so those arriving at allotted times are not being held up. This could cause aggravation with secondary guests, cost the company money – especially when experts are brought in – and waste time in labor costs. To avoid these pitfalls, this involves time management and active facilitation but ultimately will save time by ensuring the meeting is progressing and on track.

After all, if you’re throwing an anniversary party, you would want to be respectful of great-grandma's toast she had planned, even if you know she’ll only be there for an hour. She’s not a secondary person, she just won’t be there the whole time and it’s important to respect that.

Overall, the primary vs. secondary strategy allows one to tailor attendance to agenda items in a compelling and strategic manner. This works to keep the meeting lean, concise, and highly relevant to all of those involved. Party on


Are you looking for tips to have better meetings? Check out a few of our most popular blog posts below or request a free demo and trial of Decisions meeting solution software that will help you build smart agendas and manage your guest lists and more.

Subscribe to the Decisions Blog