Why Training Group Size Matters

The "8-18-1800" rule suggests that to solve an issue or make a decision, limit group SIZE to eight or fewer attendees. For brainstorming, limit to 18 max. MASTER CLASSES SHOULD BE LIMITED TO 36. For updates or information sharing you can admit up to 1800.

As a trainer who presents both Master Class Workshops and private corporate groups, I am often asked how many people should be invited to attend. I frequently chuckle when someone who proclaims that they are a professional trainer announces that they are offering a Master Class in a general session at an event with 100+ in the audience. “Master Class” isn’t the new buzzword of the training industry. The Master Class training format has a distinct definition and purpose. 

Deciding whom to invite should be determined by the objectives of the session. I don’t charge by the attendee, but I will offer recommendations based on training needs and objectives. 

According to Robert Sutton, a professional of organizational behavior at Stanford University, research indicates that the most productive meetings contain only 5-8 attendees, because beyond that number, the quality of the conversation begins to diminish.  this is especially true if the meeting objective is to conclude a decision by a task force or working team.

Smaller workshop sizes build a sense of intimacy that opens the floor to meaningful questions, information exchange and candid discussion. Fewer people enable better listing with more time to consider different perspectives. Candor begets results and alignment follows instead of rule making and consequences for infractions.

While I may suggest a smaller, more intimate group, when clients ask me how many people they can include in a training workshop with me, I tend to err on granting permission to a larger audience if those present have a solid reason for attendance. 


One group, a pediatric medical group practice with many locations throughout the nation, broke their training into three sessions across three days: one for revenue management team members, one for contract analysts and negotiators, one for executives to plan and decide contracting strategy, and a fourth day to convene all participants.

At CLEVELAND CLINIC, we broke the training program into modules and people from various departments with different roles and objectives were broken into four days of training with an agenda. Each module’s content scaffolded the learning from previous sessions. Those whose work was not related to a particular module were given the option to attend or skip. On the fifth day, we put all the training into practice with “war game drills” role playing payer negotiations and rebuttals to give and take requests and objections.


In one Thai hospital, we invited 5 key personnel from each hospital in the chain. We used audience response system (ARS) keypads to enhance class participation because cultural norms would otherwise limited response. Asian audiences tend not to raise hands or engage deferring to the authority of the instructor. By using the ARS keypads, each class participant was able to respond in anonymity. The end result of the class was knowledge transfer, confirmation of understanding and class engagement despite the cultural preference for anonymity.  I own a top of the line ARS system and can easily transport the system and keypads for up to 80 participants. Because I train internationally all the time, the $8000 investment in the system was an easy decision. It has served me and my training clients well over the years. Many novice trainers neither have the equipment nor do they know how to use it and integrate the interactivity in their sessions. It takes training and experience, as well as professional coursework in pedagogy to gain the most benefit from an ARS system. If the trainer you hire doesn’t have their own system, expect to pay about USD $3500 per day plus the fee for a technician to be on duty to assist the trainer with the technology and verify the count on the handheld response units at the end of the day. For each handheld not returned, expect a premium charge to be levied. Batteries are generally the cause of non-working units. Have extra batteries available. The cost of the battery is about $0.25 apiece.


Once I’ve presented the course, I often suggest a brief weekly check-in as a web conference to help execute the new norms, processes, and attitudes I trained. Clients can also hold their own weekly check in sessions for a few weeks. Regardless of the frequency of pulse checks, people should have regular, structured forums in which to express their frustrations and surface problems as well as to improve how the team works together.  This is also the best way to plan to meet continual training needs for reinforcement learning.

I tend to use this approach when training on accreditation survey preparation. We hold the in person team meetings and departmental sessions onsite, followed by weekly or biweekly web-based meetings, phone conversations and email. Then, right before the mock survey, we hold one more in-person, on-site session a few days before the mock survey.


Processes like these and limitations on training group size can improve productivity, communication and integration of your team’s work. It also helps job satisfaction scores and work/life balance results.

For help with training needs analysis or to schedule onsite or offsite training, please contact me at (800) 727 4160.


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