How long should a meeting last?

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iif-feb2016

When someone asks me “How long should a meeting last?” the underlying question often is “How can we avoid meetings that drag on with no apparent end in sight?”

The short answer to the first question is: as long as it takes to complete the stated purpose of the meeting. (Skip to the end of this article if you want a specific time estimate.)

The short answer to the second question is: by clearly stating the purpose and expected outcome at the beginning of the meeting and ending when that result had been achieved.

Too often, meetings are called without the team leader or meeting convener having completed this crucial sentence: “By the end of this meeting we will have….”

Here are some examples of outcomes for three different meetings focused on the same issue.

“By the end of this meeting we will have…

  1. …analyzed options for improving our security system and decided on steps needed in order to make a decision at our next meeting.”
  2. …decided on the priority improvements in the security system and selected a service provider.”
  3. …reviewed the results of the changes made in the security system and decided whether additional measures need to be taken.”

Given this kind of clarity about the purpose of these meetings, the convener knows exactly who to invite (i.e., those with a direct responsibility or specialized knowledge about the issue.) And those participants arrive at the meetings fully aware of the task before them. Ideally, they have received and reviewed relevant background information ahead of time and the leader or facilitator has designed an orderly process for discussing, deciding and clarifying next steps.

And then when the objective has been achieved, the meeting is adjourned.

Unless of course someone suggests additional items for the group to address. The justification for this is usually something like, “Well, now that we are here, let´s also talk about…”

RESIST THIS TEMPATION!

If these new issues were really urgent, they should have been included in the original agenda. Make note of them and agree to address them in a future meeting BUT NOT NOW. Do not trap the participants, who after all, have completed the task they were called to do, in a longer meeting. Everyone in the room has other things to do. Let them go, with thanks for a job well done.

While the exact duration of a meeting depends on the complexity of the issues and degree of controversy around them, as well as the effectiveness of the agenda design and the facilitation skill of the meeting leader, here is a rough estimate, based on the frequency of the meeting and the kinds of issues addressed. Download a summary of four kinds of meetings, what they might include and how long they typically last.

Need help making the best use of time spent in meetings? Let´s schedule a short phone conversation to discuss your situation.

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