We have all attended meetings that we didn’t need to be present for. Meetings that we have felt like passengers on, where, despite taking notes, no real actions will ever arise.
Ensuring this doesn’t happen is the responsibility of a meeting leader, and one of the first steps is selecting the right meeting attendees, and assigning them roles. The task of selecting meeting attendees and assigning meeting roles is sometimes challenging, however it is a vital step in ensuring thorough preparation, active engagement, and ownership of meeting outcomes, all of which enhances the productivity of meetings in the aggregate.
At Sherpany, we have spent nearly a decade working with Europe’s leaders to understand the pain points of their meeting processes, and collaborating with them to find solutions to their problems.
In this article, we will explore the steps you should take when choosing meeting attendees and assigning meeting roles, offering best practice and insight, so that your future meetings are composed of attendees who are engaged and ready to deliver.
Selecting meeting attendees is much the same as choosing team-mates for a football match. You want to choose the players who have the highest abilities, the greatest commitment to the team, and the desire to achieve success.
In many cases, there is a fallacy that the more people who attend a meeting, the greater the collaboration will be. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t true - in fact, the opposite is. According to Paul Axtell, a leading meeting expert, the most productive meetings have less than eight attendees.1 Therefore, your attendees list should be shorter than you might think.
Another rule for measuring this, the perhaps absurdly titled ‘two pizza rule’, supports this theory. Instituted at Amazon in the early days, Jeff Bezos posited that internal meetings should never be attended by more people than can be fed by two pizzas.
So, with a finite number of seats at the table, how do you select players that are going to help you to emerge victorious? To begin with, you should ask yourself the following four questions:
What are the goals of your meeting?
Before you can choose your meeting participants, you need to be clear on the goals that your meeting hopes to achieve. It is important to have the goals of every meeting very clear in your mind at the outset, so this question ensures you have done this. According to our Azend® framework for meeting management, a meeting only comes to be when necessary. By clearly outlining the goals at the outset you avoid meeting for meeting’s sake.
Who can help you accomplish these goals?
It is vital to consider the skills, experience, and interests of those you are inviting to your meeting. You want to be sure that meeting attendees have the necessary abilities, as well as a level of buy-in from everyone at the table.
Who is affected by the outcomes of this meeting?
When identifying meeting participants, it is imperative to consider who will be impacted by the outcomes of a meeting, and to consider whether or not they need to be consulted, or included, during the meeting process. After all, these individuals may be the boots on the ground in delivering on the actions decided in a meeting, and therefore it is vital to have their support.
Who are the key decision-makers in each area?
In choosing meeting participants, it is important to consider who has the influence to get things done inside your organisation. Whether it is divisional leaders, who will be responsible for rallying the troops behind a change, or subject matter experts whose knowledge you will rely on to make decisions, identifying and including the key decision-makers in the relevant areas will be a key step in achieving the goals of your meeting.
Now that you have selected your attendees list, you need to assign clear meeting roles and responsibilities.
In the context of our football match, assigning meeting roles is akin to deciding which position each player will play. Ensuring that people are filling roles that are appropriate for their level of seniority, their skillset, and their experience is essential. For example, you wouldn’t ask a goal-keeper to play as a striker.
As a minimum, formal meetings should have:
It might be that an individual plays more than one role in your meeting, or the same person might lead for the entire meeting. There is a level of flexibility here, and the freedom to choose the people who are able to fulfil the role in the most effective way. Let us consider these roles individually to understand their purpose.
Every meeting needs a leader. In some cases this is referred to the ‘chair’ of the meeting. This person’s responsibilities include setting the ground rules, keeping the meeting on time, ensuring engagement, and making sure that each meeting attendee can contribute equally.
Agenda item leader
Separate to the overall meeting leader, each agenda item needs a leader. This is likely to be a subject-matter expert in this field. Their responsibility is to strive to achieve the goal of their agenda item by facilitating effective discussion, fostering engagement, and making a judgement call as to when conversations should be taken ‘offline.’ This helps ensure that discussions do not run-on too long, and that everybody has the opportunity to contribute fully.
Taking meeting minutes is a vital part of formal leadership meetings - especially when it comes to management. In some cases, a designated minutes taker may join the meeting, and in other cases another meeting attendee might assume this responsibility. Indeed, some leaders alternate so that it is not the same person each time. Meeting minutes play a legal role in providing an auditable record of discussions, votes, and decisions. They also fulfil an important administrative purpose, allowing leaders to recall past meetings to avoid duplicate effort. Following a meeting minutes template is a great way of ensuring that you get the most out of your meeting minutes.
The meeting organiser is the person charged with the overall arrangement, logistics, and follow-up of a meeting. They coordinate calendars, draft the meeting agenda, circulate meeting materials, and follow-up communications. The meeting organiser is often a Corporate Secretary or Chairperson, supported by the Executive or Personal Assistants of other meeting attendees.
A meeting attendee is an individual who is chosen to participate in all or part of a meeting. Meeting attendees should be those who can contribute value to the meeting as a whole, or a specific agenda item. Meeting attendees should be equipped to prepare thoroughly for the meeting. This allows them to collaborate asynchronously with other meeting attendees ahead of the meeting. In addition to this, through dynamic collaboration, meeting attendees can join the meeting for the specific agenda items to which they can contribute their expertise and subject knowledge, and leave for those that aren’t relevant.
In some cases, it might be necessary to intersperse your meetings with some less formal roles to promote greater engagement. This can be especially effective for team meetings. For example, in a recent article by Forbes, it was suggested that roles such as ‘Customer Advocate’ could be assigned.2 This person’s responsibility is to continually ask themself ‘What would the customer think?’ and contribute to discussions based on this, providing the voice of the customer.
When selecting meeting attendees, it is vital that you take the time to consider the relevance of the meeting to the individuals, as well as the contribution that they can make. It is also very important to keep meeting attendees as lean as possible - in the immortal words of Dieter Rams: Less, but better.3 Quality over quantity is essential here, as extra participants dilute the concentration and engagement of your meeting overall.
In terms of assigning meeting roles, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every meeting is unique, and meeting roles should be clearly aligned with the overall goals of each agenda item. Whilst some meeting roles are standardised, there are others that you can consider and these should be bespoke to your culture, organisation, and objectives.
If you have invested time in identifying the goals of each of your agenda items and carefully crafted your attendees list, it should be easier to carefully assign roles for your meeting.
1. The Most Productive Meetings Have Fewer Than 8 People, P. Axtell, HBR, 2018.
2. Bringing The Voice Of The Customer Into Your Meetings, Forbes, 2018.
3. Less, But Better, D. Rams, 1995.