Finding the Sweet Spot: How Long Should Your Meeting Last?
Determining the appropriate duration of any meeting goes a long way to ensuring engagement and collaboration between team members, alignment on next steps, and productive outcomes.
This article will highlight a few guidelines for assessing and implementing an appropriate duration for your meetings. Along the way, we’ll share some tools, best practices (aka disciplines), and tactics to help keep you on time, every time.
It’s easy to tell when a meeting is running too long. Just look around the room (whether it’s a Zoom room or an actual, physical room with actual, in-the-flesh attendees). You’ll see people becoming distracted, glancing at their phones, turning the camera off for a minute or ten, or dropping a “brb” in the chat. These signs often make it clear that the meeting is quickly losing its purpose, and there’s no getting some people back.
The good news is, getting a handle on meetings that run too long is a relatively easy thing to correct.
But make no mistake, simply saying, “This should only take 30 minutes” does not solve the issue on its own. You need an effective agenda that provides the context team members need to meaningfully contribute. After all, if we’re going to put any amount of time on someone’s calendar, they should know why they’ve been invited and what they’re going to learn or contribute to the meeting.
You should also consider the number of attendees, the purpose of the meeting, the meeting frequency, and where everyone is when the meeting starts — whether it’s in the office, working from home, or working remotely halfway around the world. And to state the obvious, be sure you adhere to the discipline of starting on time and ending on time.
Get a handle on all this, and you’re well on your way to setting an appropriate duration for your meetings. Let’s dive a bit deeper into this below.
Types of Meetings and Their Ideal Length
Before we talk about how long a meeting should last, let’s begin by identifying a few key types of meetings every organization is bound to have at one level or another:
- Weekly Team Meetings
- Weekly 1-on-1s
- Quarterly Planning Meetings
- Annual Planning Meetings
- State of the Company
We typically see the weekly meetings clocking anywhere from one to two hours, depending on the agenda and number of attendees, many of whom may be raising Issues or providing key updates. State of the Company meetings likely fall within this same timeframe as well, depending on the size of the company and, well, what kind of state it’s in! Quarterly Planning Meetings tend to run a full day for most Senior Leadership Teams (not ours at Ninety, but we’ll share more on why shortly), half to three-quarter days for larger departments, or three to four hours for smaller teams. Annual Planning Meetings tend to go twice as long as quarterly.
One of the biggest factors influencing the right amount of time is the size of the team. At Ninety, our Senior Leadership Team (SLT) has eleven members, which is about as large a number as a team should be. The consequence of our SLT’s team size is we have two-hour weekly meetings versus the 90 minutes that most five- to seven-person leadership teams need. The same applies to our Quarterly and Annual Planning Meetings. They’re about 50% longer than is needed by the average-sized team.
Here’s our SLT's most commonly used agenda to frame things up.
- Segue — A time for quick personal and/or professional updates to keep us healthily connected.
- Headlines — News that’s important to share (“I’ll be out next week”) but not tied to company goals.
- Rock review — Rocks are what we call our 90-day goals, and we simply confirm if they’re on track for completion.
- To-Dos — A 5-minute blitz through the list of things we committed to do by the end of the week.
- Scorecard — A look at the KPIs and targets we’ve set to ensure everything is running well
- Raise, Discuss, and Resolve (RDR) — The bulk of the meeting is dedicated to our Short-Term Issues list.
- Conclude — Attendees rate the effectiveness of the meeting on a scale of 1–10.
While the actual time needed for the RDR process depends entirely on the number of Short-Term Issues and how they’re ranked in priority, it's essential that the meeting ends on time out of respect for everyone’s calendars and their other agreements. This is why at Ninety, we prioritize all of our Issues before we begin the RDR process to ensure that all the Issues that have to be solved during the meeting are solved. To be sure, this section of the meeting generates the most discussion as we thoughtfully navigate our way toward solving the Issues or moving them to a Long-Term Issues list.
Quarterly Planning Meetings at Ninety include some elements of the weekly meeting, but are obviously larger in scope and consume at least a full day. Like at most organizations, we use this as a time for reviewing results from the previous quarter, tackling Long-Term Issues, and setting goals for the next quarter (we call these Rocks), among other agenda items. And, as you might have guessed, Annual Planning Meetings take it up another notch, requiring at least two days to properly sift through what's surely a packed agenda, with visions of the future front of mind.
As for the remaining meetings on our list, we find 30–45 minutes to be sufficient for 1-on-1 meetings, as they’re likely held on a weekly cadence. Daily stand-ups are a fraction of that, maybe 5–10 minutes. We’re truly standing here, not sitting. It’s the quickest of check-ins to ensure a team is highly connected and aligned without requiring too much time or energy from the participants.
The Risks of Meetings That Are Too Long
As you might imagine, meetings with a duration that’s “just right” lead to better decision-making, increased productivity… and reduced frustration.
But let’s talk a bit more about the implications of meetings that aren’t just right.
As we mentioned previously, spotting the signs of disengaged team members isn’t all that hard. But there’s often a carryover effect, which makes things considerably more difficult. Just imagine that certain team members decide the next meeting could be a waste of their time and opt not to join. That can become a significant challenge.
Not only does decreased engagement and/or attendance reduce the team’s productivity and morale, but there’s also a real risk to accomplishing the tasks and goals the meeting aims to address in the first place.
We can head all this off by starting on time, ending on time… and using a few tools at our disposal. Perhaps the best time manager is found right in the Ninety Meetings tool, where an in-app timer keeps everyone on track according to the time limits set for each agenda item. Running long on a section? The timer turns red to alert you. Knowing that, the balance of time for remaining agenda items can be slightly modified to help get things back on track.
Follow These Best Practices for Optimizing Meetings
It’s meeting time! The agenda is established and its Issues are prioritized. There’s a firm start and stop time, the duration of the meeting feels right, and the right people are in the room, either physically or virtually.
So, you might wonder, how can the meeting be optimized even further? Here are a few suggestions that have proven effective to keep people focused and engaged:
- Have someone own running the meeting.
- Have someone else own being the meeting’s scribe.
- Keep the meeting short and to the point. As we like to say, “Less is more…until it’s not.”
- Avoid tangents that move the conversation off topic.
- If you are running the meeting, part of your job is to keep an eye on the time and help us avoid those tangents.
- Take appropriate breaks every 60–90 minutes during long meetings. A quick “temp check” of the room will let you know when the time is right.
- Adopt a “no-meeting day" policy and increase remote work options. It’s a powerful combo to give some time back to team members.
It’s Time to Make the Most of Your Meetings
Are you ready to fine-tune your meetings, improve productivity, and create a more positive meeting culture?
Fortunately, there’s a way to manage and optimize your meeting length based on the type of meeting and the desired outcomes. Ninety’s Meetings tool lets you automate and keep your meetings on track for maximum productivity and engagement.
Manage your meeting time for success. Start your first meeting for free in Ninety today.
Ninety is an innovative, cloud-based platform built for remote, hybrid, and in-person teams that want to work smarter and more effectively — together.