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One riot, one Ranger: How many people in a meeting is too many?

Brad Anderson

zoom meeting Now that Zoom is everyone’s virtual version of a conference room, it’s easier than ever to overload the attendee list. After all, adding names to the invitation takes just a few clicks. Why risk leaving anyone out?

But before you reflexively add 20 people to every Zoom invitation, step back and think about what the meeting needs to accomplish, and who needs to take ownership of the action items.

If you’re collaborating at the start of a project to make sure that everyone’s input is considered, or at the end of a project where many people’s buy-in is required, then 20 attendees, with their 20 different perspectives, might make sense. But if you’re meeting about a project phase where one or two people are empowered to take action, prune your attendee list strategically.

Involving more than the necessary number of people dilutes responsibility and accountability, delays action, and diminishes your ability to achieve your goals. I like the advice given in a 2018 Inc. article to make meetings more productive by limiting most of them to 7 people, plus or minus 2—that is, 5 to 9 attendees.

If you’re tempted to add more than a handful of people to a meeting invitation, consider this story.

In the 1890s in El Paso, Texas, an illegal heavyweight boxing match was set to take place. The mayor, concerned about controlling the rowdy crowds expected for the fight, called in the Texas Rangers, who would arrive by train.

When the mayor met the train, a single Texas Ranger stepped down onto the platform. The mayor asked, “Where are the others?” And the lawman is said to have answered: “We’re the Texas Rangers. One riot, one ranger.”

In other words, given a task at hand—or a meeting to be organized—involve only as many people as necessary to get the job done.

I like the message of “One riot, one Ranger” so much that I have a NetApp jacket with that saying on it. Other reminders might work better for you. But in any case, here’s to everyone enjoying better focused, more productive, more satisfying meetings in the future.

Tell me, what’s your rule of thumb for determining the ideal meeting size?

Brad Anderson

Brad Anderson is the executive vice president of the NetApp Hybrid Cloud Group. He is responsible for driving the strategy and execution to build a portfolio of offerings that helps customers build cloud-architected data centers. These data centers can then deliver cloud services for innovative applications in either private or service provider models. Brad has a broad business background, leading both startup and mature businesses, and he has a track record of turning emerging products into multimillion- and billion-dollar businesses. He brings substantial leadership experience and deep knowledge of the converged systems market to lead NetApp’s growth in the cloud infrastructure business and to help customers build their next-generation data centers. Brad spent nine years at HP Compaq as the senior vice president and GM of Industry Standard Servers, where he led the company’s $8 billion x86 server business. He spent seven years as president and GM of Dell's $12 billion Enterprise Solution Group leading servers, storage, networking and software businesses. He helped Dell acquire EqualLogic, Compellent, and Force10, and he grew each business significantly to enable Dell’s transition away from a mostly OEM model in storage and networking. Just before joining NetApp, Brad served as president and chief operating officer of Gravitant, a cloud service brokerage platform company, where he played an instrumental role in growing the business and in selling the company to IBM. Brad holds a Bachelor of Science degree in petroleum engineering from Texas A&M University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

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