Cindy Alvarez

The 6-Person Discussion

What's the right size for ideas to germinate and lead to action?

Across my team (and as we collaborate with other teams), there's often the need for people to feel out new ideas, to do a little bit of debating and a bit of brainstorming, and then to make progress.

Here's what doesn't work:

For the past year or so, I've been experimenting with a format that seems to be working well: 6 people, one moderator (that's me).

Repeat with as many meetings as needed to fit in everyone. As in, if you want to spread an idea among 18 people, run 3 separate 6-person meetings.

What a waste of time, right?

On the surface it seems like it. I realize that any advice that calls upon you to potentially triple or quadruple your meeting time sounds raises skepticism. But I've found that I spend far more time the other way. Sometimes I end up doing damage control in 1:1s or small groups because people have taken an idea and assumed the worst and gossiped about the potential awful outcomes. Sometimes it's just that an brainstorm peters out and a week goes by without anyone taking action.

So here's the rough format I've been using: