Valuable lessons have a way of continually working their way back to the surface time and time again. This week’s repeating lesson: having the right people in the room. In my work, it makes sense to be vigilant about the details. The right venue can create an open environment. Great facilitators can move things along. The content is critical. But possibly the most important aspect is the guest list. There is an appreciable difference when the right people are sitting around the table as opposed to the wrong people.

This week, I wanted to share 4 ways you can tell you have the right people in the room.

1. They Understand Why They Are There

Life is chalk full of meetings. For a surprising amount of them, we lack a clear grasp as to WHY we have been invited to join. The WHY is defined by what you hope the outcome of the meeting will be. An outcome is the result of a successfully completed meeting. For example, a meeting to discuss the previous quarter’s sales performance is full of potential outcomes. Do you want to explain the results to everyone so they can communicate them with their teams? Do you want to diagnose what went wrong to create a plan to avoid making the same mistakes? Do you want to develop a dataset from which to work on this quarter’s budget?

If you leave it up to attendees to figure out which one you’re after, chances are good the answers will be all over the place. Although the desired outcome may be one of these or all of them, being clear about what the intended outcome is will help people understand WHY they are there. (Moreover, when we are clear about the intended outcomes we can measure whether or not the meeting was successful and learn where we might improve in the future).

I have found it useful to think about a meeting’s outcome in really simple terms using this structure: I want to (Verb) so (Result). Verb: Specify the action you want to take – brainstorm, diagnose, present, share, work on, etc, etc – to be clear about what you’ll be doing during the time together. Result: Be specific about how you’ll use the work when the meeting is over. Some examples:

  • Let’s meet to brainstorm new product ideas so we can have 3 ideas to present to our innovation team.
  • I scheduled this meeting to present the latest marketing one sheet so you can utilize it in the field.
  • This meeting is meant to evaluate the remaining applications so we can make a decision about who to hire.

2. They Understand Their Role to Play

Not only do we struggle to understand WHY we’re at a particular meeting, we also struggle to understand what role we should be playing. Should I be facilitating the meeting? Sharing my expertise? Quietly listening to learn? Playing devil’s advocate? Before a meeting begins, it’s helpful to be explicit about what your expectation of someone’s participation would be. Basic roles include facilitator, timekeeper, notekeeper, and sensor. But often we need roles that go much deeper: challenger, expert, decider (thanks GW), caregiver, rebel, explorer, clown, and so on. The right mix of roles depends on the desired outcome of the meeting. Perhaps you’re meeting to share process updates to expense reporting. Please, please, please make sure to assign someone the role of “class clown” to bring brevity and lightness to the meeting! Being explicit about the roles you need and expect people to play goes a long way in achieving your desired outcomes.

3. They Are Present and Engaged

Do I really need to explain? Nothing derails a session like a constant stream of mobile notifications, “fires” needing to be put out, “quick calls”, quick step-outs, and “breaks”. If people are behaving as if they don’t want to be there, they probably don’t want to be there. I’ve found it is better for all parties involved to simply allow people to opt-out if they feel they can’t be present and engaged.

4. They Have a Point of View

Properly preparing for a meeting means we’ve created a mental model of how and what we have to contribute to that meeting. In simpler terms, we have a point of view. Successful meetings rely on people bringing that point of view into the room rather than depending on the meeting to produce their opinion. For organizers, this means being clear about the outcome and roles for the meeting (see points 1 & 2 above) as well as giving ample time and context for people to shape an opinion prior to the meeting. When people bring a point of view into a meeting it allows the time together to have depth and meaning. The right people bring a diverse set of viewpoints from which we can build, learn, and drive forward from.


The Friday Four. Every Friday I publish four top of mind thoughts from the experiences of the previous week. Themes include growth, coaching, startups, innovation, family, fatherhood, travel, food, or any other top of mind topic.

The rules are simple:

  • Publish every Friday.
  • Four thoughts (as long or as short as necessary).
  • No content calendar. No SEO hacks. No marketing bullshit.