Who Should Participate?

By Heather Baldwin

You’ve heard the phrase: Too many cooks spoil the brew, right? The same could be said for meetings: Too many participants can bog down a meeting. The challenge, of course, is to include enough people that you get all the input you need to determine a course of action, but not so many that nothing gets accomplished. So how do you find that magic number? Paul Timm, author of How to Hold Successful Meetings (Career Press, 1997), advises meeting leaders to use the following criteria to determine who should attend a meeting.

Expertise. Everyone who is invited should have some expertise on the issue being discussed. When attendees have only limited knowledge of the problem or project, their solution “will reflect pooled ignorance,” says Timm, and the meeting will be a waste of time.

Vested interest. People or departments who will be affected by any decisions made at the meeting should be included. So if someone has a vested interest in the meeting’s outcome, include him or her. “It becomes extremely difficult to sell a decision – even a good decision – to people who have been denied any input into the decision-making process,” says Timm.

Tolerance. Invite those who can express their own points of view clearly and concisely while remaining tolerant of opposing viewpoints. Progress is likely to be achieved only if attendees are skilled in the group decision-making process and are not so firmly attached to their own opinions that they can’t consider alternatives and compromises. If you must include some participants who you know to be inflexible, take some time at the outset to establish an atmosphere of tolerance by acknowledging that there will be differences of opinion, but that you’d like everyone to fairly evaluate all input.

Organizational values. Attendees should share the organization’s values. If they are “antagonistic or in disagreement with the company’s goals, it makes no sense to have them participate in decisions affecting those goals,” says Timm.