Meeting Mindfully: Choose and Set the Right Meeting Cadence
Establishing an appropriate meeting cadence is a surefire way to foster spirited collaboration among team members while beating back the risk of meeting fatigue. While there’s no perfect answer to how often a team, department, or organization should meet, this article will highlight a few guiding principles to help keep calendars manageable… and team members engaged.
Let’s start with a few eye-popping statistics: American companies hold approximately 55 million weekly meetings1. To break that down to a more relatable number, the average person participates in at least eight meetings per week. And, no shocker here, it only increases with seniority, as evidenced by the 12 meetings per week attended by the average executive manager.
Now imagine that any meaningful percentage of those meetings suffer from poor time management or don't effectively address critical issues or facilitate collaboration. Not ideal, right? After all, calendar management is tough enough as it is, especially in a work-from-anywhere world, where we all need to manage time and the commitments of our personal and professional lives. No surprise, of course, there’s often a full dance card on both fronts. Let’s make things easier.
Let’s nail the meeting cadence — and duration of those meetings — to keep everyone focused, aligned, and thriving in a collaborative environment that helps move organizations forward in the best ways.
Meeting Cadence… Depends on the Meeting
Before determining the best meeting cadence, we’ll first define the different kinds of meetings right up front. At Ninety, like at most organizations, meetings tend to fall into one of three categories: recurring, non-recurring, and reactive.
- Recurring — These are meetings we schedule at roughly fixed intervals, whether daily (a quick “stand-up”), weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually. At Ninety, we tend to follow a set of simple cadence rules. For example, our Senior Leadership Team holds a Weekly Team Meeting every Monday from 9:00 a.m. to 11 a.m. It sets the tone for the week and aligns us on the work ahead at all levels of the organization.
- Non-recurring — These are one-off meetings scheduled for a specific day and time. A brainstorming meeting scheduled for Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. and ending at 4:00 p.m. is a great example. With such meetings, it’s imperative that an effective meeting agenda is included with the invite to ensure everyone is prepared for a productive discussion.
- Reactive — These are unplanned meetings that are scheduled in reaction to some internal or external event. For example, a client has an urgent issue, and a meeting is quickly pulled together to resolve the issue efficiently and effectively.
As we consider these types of meetings, it’s essential to balance the frequency (and total number overall) of meetings with the impact(s) on team members’ productivity. Of course, that rarely falls to one person or even a few people. In larger organizations, meeting invites sometimes feel like they come from all corners. But the net effect will be positive and productive if they’re the right meetings — at the right time and for the right duration.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Meeting Cadence
Appreciating the overwhelming consensus that meeting strain is a real problem, we also have to acknowledge that — human nature being what it is — we can sometimes be our own worst enemies. In a Harvard Business Review2 article, the authors identified several reasons calendars are consistently clogged. Here are three that jumped out at us:
- FOMO — That’s right, sometimes we’re afraid of missing out on something if we don’t attend. Or, worse, we worry we might be judged for NOT attending. It’s like the little red “x” on the invite doesn’t even exist for people with FOMO.
- Selfish urgency — Some people schedule meetings when convenient, regardless of others’ needs or schedules. (How many times have you been double- or triple-booked?). This does NOT feel like “meeting mindfully” to us.
- Meeting amnesia — Ever felt like Phil from Groundhog Day, repeating the same meetings over and over? Forgetting what was discussed or decided is one of the worst outcomes of any meeting. Fortunately, our Meetings tool makes this phenomenon impossible. (More on that later.)
The common thread from these callouts ties back to an organization’s culture and, equally importantly, trust. (We’re big on trust around here.) If trust is prevalent in an organization, meeting FOMO really shouldn’t exist. Nor should a complete disregard for people’s schedules because of selfish urgency.
The purpose of a meeting goes a long way toward determining the right cadence. A huge project that falls to multiple teams and is due within a few months might require weekly or even twice-weekly meetings to ensure everyone’s informed and aligned. A longer-tail project may only need biweekly check-ins. Thinking ahead to a big event that’s more than a year out? Monthly meetings coupled with informal check-ins for select people may suffice in the early stages, with an increased cadence as the date draws nearer.
We all find our rhythm with cadence as meeting purpose is established. But a good rule of thumb to follow just happens to be one of our founder’s mantras:
"Less is more… until it’s not."
At Ninety, we provide the tools to run great meetings and ensure appropriate, thoughtful follow-ups. That helps significantly with establishing the right meeting cadence. We consider schedules carefully and respectfully, factoring in time zones and trying our best to minimize a slew of back-to-back meetings for anyone.
We will, however, admit to recently establishing a recurring weekly “meeting” with no agenda at all… and where absolutely nothing happens. It’s called “focus time.” We’ve blocked a half day on Wednesday on everyone’s calendar so people can really dig into the work without worrying about how they’ll manage any other noise or meeting obligations during that time.
The early returns are in, and it’s safe to say our team members LOVE focus time.
Meeting Duration: Start on Time, End on Time (or Early!)
Sometimes, the simplest concepts are the easiest ones to agree on. (Like trust, we’re also big on agreements.) And our team agrees that each and every meeting should have a firm start time and a firm limit to its duration. We hold to strict time limits on our meetings to save team members the frenzy of scrambling from one to the next when those back-to-back meetings are unavoidable. True, it’s a little easier to say that as a fully remote organization, but you get the idea.
The firm start time is an obvious but important point that enables the meeting to get rolling with strong, positive energy. We’ve all experienced the annoyance of waiting for that last key participant who arrives 5 minutes late… or more. So the firm start is about putting a time on the calendar that all participants will respect.
This is why we also strongly recommend that people show up for a meeting a few minutes earlier whenever possible. In a healthy environment — where people care about each other — there’s a natural tendency to banter about the weekend, the game last night, or any other interesting topics. That’s why our Weekly Team Meeting agenda even includes a Segue to allow for these meaningful connections, and that part of the meeting is factored into its overall duration.
The firm “up to” end time is the other side of this discipline. That person who arrived 5 minutes late? Well, they’ll often justify it by saying their previous meeting ran long. The impact is huge. That’s why it’s okay to end a meeting early, but not okay to go beyond the scheduled duration.
Setting Effective Meeting Agendas
Beyond setting a meeting cadence, it’s beneficial to establish agreements and align on norms for meetings. Both of these attributes are key components of the meeting agenda that ensure everyone understands why they’re in the meeting, what’s on the table for discussion, and how tasks will be handled (and by whom).
We have time-tested agendas for each of our main meetings — the Weekly Team Meeting, Quarterly Planning Meeting, and Annual Planning Meeting. They help define the meeting's purpose and encourage active participation from all team members.
Once we’re clear on the agenda, we consider how much time to allocate to each section of the meeting. Additionally, we determine how much time is needed for the meeting to conclude with all participants feeling it was an exceptional use of their individual and collective time. Determining the time needed for recurring meetings is a feel thing; you’ll likely adjust it once or twice as you have more meetings. For non-recurring and especially reactive meetings, it’s essential to know what time you’ll need to “get to done.”
Because if you don’t, you guessed it — you’ll need another meeting.
The frequency of meetings really comes down to the purpose of those meetings, the norms established with team members, and the agreements that lead to a productive and thriving environment. After all, when you think about it, one way to measure an organization's health and level of trust is how often it needs to have either non-recurring or reactive meetings. Imagine when that number is a fraction of what it is today.
Sounds like a goal worth pursuing to us!
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Start making the most of your time. Create your first meeting for free in Ninety today.