The Rule of 7: How to Have More Productive Meetings

Timed agendas, clear meeting goals, and designated note-takers are all great tools for improving meeting effectiveness. 

However, one of the most important factors for effective meeting management is having the right people in the room.

Getting the right people in the room depends on your actions before each meeting begins.

Some companies have formulaic mantras about how many people they allow at their meetings (e.g., Amazon’s “two pizza” rule), but not every company has those practices in place. Plus, not all of those rules are based in science. 

We suggest that you implement one specific practice: get the right number of people in the room for each meeting.

The Rule of 7

There are a few rules of thumb for how many people you should have in a meeting, depending on the meeting purpose. 

  • Problem solving meetings: 4-7 people
  • Standup meetings: 5-15 people
  • Brainstorming meetings: Up to 18 people
  • All hands meetings: As many people as you want!

Research shows that for every person over seven attendees in a meeting, decision quality goes down by 10%

So, whenever you will be making collaborative decisions during a meeting, keep the group to seven people or fewer.

You may not be able to change your entire organization’s meeting practice overnight, but there is good news: 

You have some control over keeping your own meetings smaller, whether you are a meeting attendee or a meeting leader.

What to Do as An Attendee

As a meeting attendee, your job is to know your role at every meeting, and to consider beforehand whether the meeting is mandatory, whether you are going to contribute, and whether you will be able to avoid multitasking. 

When your attendance at a meeting is unnecessary,  you can actually help your entire team by skipping the meeting. Plus, you will have more time to concentrate on work (or catch a break to eat lunch)!

Planning ahead and choosing which meeting invites to decline at the beginning of the week helps to open up your calendar, giving you the opportunity to add time blocks for work that requires longer periods of concentration.

Try using the 5 Minute Calendar Cleanup to optimize your meeting management every week.

Pro Tip for Meeting Leaders

As a meeting leader, your responsibility is to run productive meetings, meaning that you need to be thoughtful about who attends each meeting.

Challenge yourself to keep most, if not all of your meetings, to seven attendees or fewer. 

If you are unsure who to remove from a meeting invitation (at least without offending them), you can reach out to invitees to:

  • Ask whether they would like to attend the meeting
  • Ask if they would like to contribute to the meeting agenda by sending notes via email ahead of time
  • Offer to record the meeting
  • Let them know that they are welcome to attend the meeting, but that their attendance is optional

Maintaining positive relationships with your team and fostering feelings of inclusion are both important, but can be achieved without inviting everyone to every meeting. 

You may be surprised how many people appreciate it when you give them back an hour of their time by leaving them out of a meeting!

Key Takeaway

Productive meetings rely on the actions you take before they occur – both as an attendee and as a meeting leader. When in doubt, stick to the Rule of 7.