Don’t Limit the Duration of Meetings

Before you scream, “WHAT???” I need to clarify the title of this post. When you set up a meeting, a duration has to be set. No one should enter a meeting without knowing when it will end. So, what does “not limiting the duration of meetings” mean? That’s a great question!

First, there were meetings. Then, most meetings became ineffective, according to numerous cross-industry surveys. Then, someone thought: If our meetings are ineffective, let’s shorten them; instead of wasting one hour, let’s waste only 30 minutes. 

The problem is that such a restriction is arbitrary at best. It doesn’t address the core of the problem; it doesn’t make our meetings more effective. But I argue such a constraint can actually make things worse. 

To be effective, a meeting must be designed to achieve something. I call this target the initiative. The initiative should be well-defined before the meeting, it should be concrete, and it must help us achieve a grander mission. To be effective, we must ensure we can accomplish the initiative during the meeting. Now, think of it: If we set the same duration for all meetings without considering the specific initiative we wish to achieve, what are the chances we’d actually conclude the meeting with the desired result? Practically none. 

Any meeting should be thoughtfully designed, but we can design it only once we know what we wish to achieve. That’s how we decide who should be in the meeting. That’s how we decide how the meeting will be conducted. And that’s the only way to determine how much time we need. Sometimes, that’s how we decide a meeting is not even the right platform for realizing the initiative. 

When the organization limits the duration of meetings across the board, the results cannot be optimal. Many meetings will end without the desired outcome, so we must schedule another meeting. The following meeting will start with a recap, and some of its time will be wasted. If we need one hour for a deep discussion, it’s better to have a one-hour meeting than two separate 30-minute meetings on the same subject. I would even suggest taking some spare time and scheduling a 75-minute to be on the safe side. 

Generic solutions often don’t solve much. Sometimes, they create more harm than good. When you think about the duration of your next meeting, don’t fall for the trap of generic definitions. Evaluate what you wish to achieve and how much time you and the team will need.

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