Most meetings are rubbish – here’s scientific proof.

(From a cleverer man than me. And very funny)

You may have to think about this but it will save you endless hours of misery, rage and frustration
Here’s an equation…              

N x (N – 1) ÷ 2

This shows the number of agreements required in a meeting where N is the number of people attending.

For example, when two people meet (N = 2), the number of agreements you need is 1 [work it out: 2 x (2 – 1) ÷ 2 = 1]. 

In other words, person A needs to agree with person B – one agreement.

And that’s it.

But when four people meet, it’s six agreements – AB, AC, AD, BC, BD and CD. [If you care – and who does? – the maths is 4 x (4 – 1) ÷ 2 = 6]

Obviously, it’s much harder to get six agreements than one.

And if you do the maths, you’ll find meetings of eight people require 28 agreements; and sixteen people require 120. This will mean big meetings take ages, and people rarely agree on everything.

You’ll have seen this at work. It’s all-too-easy to think “collaboration” means piling as many people as possible in a room to discuss things.

But this often leads to decisions taking ages, not happening at all, or being rubbish (that’s why they say a camel is what a horse would look like if it was designed by committee).

So, what to do about it?

Well, you have a few options. One is to reduce the number of people involved.  For instance, some/all of:

  • Only invite people who need to be there. One way to decide who could be to use the RACI model (this is a way of looking at each person’s role – are they ResponsibleAccountable, do we need to Consult with them, or only Inform them?)
  • Only invite people who need to be there – remember, you can always send the Actions Arising to non-attendees
  • Don’t attend meetings you don’t need to – you can ask to see the Actions Arising
  • Never allow big groups to discuss small detail (simply say “we’ll do the detail offline. For now, let’s just agree the main points”)
  • Where appropriate, split large groups into smaller sub-groups. One sub-group does a detailed first draft, to share with the wider group

I was once invited to a meeting to put together a complex proposal for a £ multi million project. There were – get this – 28 people there.


They asked me how I wanted to start the meeting.  I told them “by removing as many people from this room as we can”

Which they did. And we had a great meeting.

And they won the contract.

But if I hadn’t done this, we’d have needed 378 agreements. That was just never going to happen.

Action point

Which of your meetings has the most attendees?  And what can you do to reduce the numbers?

Also, which of this week’s meetings do you not need to attend?  Get out of one meeting per week, and you save about 50 hours per year – that’s a working week!

Now what you just read was from my esteemed colleague Andy Bounds.

In exactly two weeks from now you can join him and me in a meeting I strongly advise you do attend. And I should add that because I am such a slapdash old soul, and most of the seats are already sold you can get a very good deal.

I should also add that we guarantee every single attendee will get at least fifteen new ideas they can implement immediately. 


About the Author


<p>In 2003, the Chartered Institute of Marketing named Drayton one of 50 living individuals who have shaped today’s marketing.</p>
<p>He has worked in 55 countries with many of the world’s greatest brands. These include American Express, Audi, Bentley, British Airways, Cisco, Columbia Business School, Deutsche Post, Ford, IBM, McKinsey, Mercedes, Microsoft, Nestle, Philips, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, Unilever, Visa and Volkswagen.</p>
<p>Drayton has helped sell everything from Airbus planes to Peppa Pig. His book, Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing, out in 17 languages, has been the UK’s best seller on the subject every year since 1982. He has also run his own businesses in the U.K., Portugal and Malaysia.</p>
<p>He was a main board member of the Ogilvy Group, a founding member of the Superbrands Organisation, one of the first eight Honorary Fellows of the Institute of Direct Marketing and one of the first three people named to the Hall of Fame of the Direct Marketing Association of India. He has also been given Lifetime Achievement Awards by the Caples Organisation in New York and Early To Rise in Florida.</p>

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