There is a common saying in the facilitator world: “If you are not at the table, you could be on the menu!” The implication, of course, is that if you are not participating in the decision making, it is possible that decisions will be made that negatively affect you. So, how does this impact choosing the right participants for your session?

In helping an organization think through choosing the right people to have engaged in a group process, we ask three key questions:

  • Who are the people impacted by the decision?
  • What level of involvement should they have in the process?
  • Whose perspectives, involvement, and buy-in are so critical that they should be at the table or represented by someone who is?…

The first question encourages you to consider all those affected by the decision. The second question helps you differentiate levels of involvement. For example, some people may only need information on decisions after the fact. Others might provide input prior to the decision. Still others might participate in the decision making. Finally, the last question helps you consider preliminary criteria for selecting those to have at the table.

Team Size

The target size for a team is highly dependent on such factors as the amount of work, the nature of the work, the number of different departments or organizational units impacted by the work, and the sophistication and availability of personnel. The table below lists suggested team sizes and general guidelines developed from my experience working with a variety of groups.

Meeting Type


Target Size


Review Mode Reviewing and commenting on work previously performed (e.g., status meeting).

2 – 100+

Since the session is primarily review and comment (no resolution, creation or direction setting), the size is limited only by logistical considerations (e.g., size of room).
Direction Setting / Strategy Establishing broad directions (e.g., strategic planning).


Large enough to gain a diversity of ideas, yet not so large as to make discussions unmanageable; if you will have a larger group, consider additional facilitators to manage breakouts.
Creation Mode Creating a solution or developing a new method (e.g., process improvement).


Small enough to reach decisions on potential difficult issues but large enough to have representation from all areas impacted.
Resolution Mode Attempting to resolve an issue by deciding between several specific alternatives for action.


Small enough to ensure that each individual is heard and perspectives discussed thoroughly to separate positions from underlying issues.

Desired Characteristics of Team Members

Who are the right people to have in a facilitated session? Once more, it depends on the meeting type. If the facilitated meeting is anything other than a status meeting, I recommend that the participants have the following characteristics:

All participants should . . .

  • Have a stake in the outcome
  • Be empowered to make decisions or recommendations
  • Understand the issue under study
  • Be perceived as opinion leaders by peers
  • Be open to solutions other than their own

As a group, depending on the session, the participants should . . .

  • Represent diverse communication styles
  • Be knowledgeable about all relevant activities under study
  • Function across departments and be representative of all groups with a major stake in the outcome
  • Be drawn from various levels of the organizational structure (for example, managers, supervisors, and workers)

In selecting participants, other dimensions to consider are skills and authority. Consider asking, “Who has the knowledge, skills, or authority required to accomplish the objectives?” Skills may include technical expertise related to the issue or soft skills such as “peacemakers” for volatile situations or “consensus builders” for difficult or complex issues.

Learn more about how to strategically plan and facilitate large group sessions in our course, The Effective Facilitator.

Contact us for help with leading your teams and meetings with better group management skills.