How Long Are Your Meetings?

How long does a good meeting need to be?

Not very long, according to Anthony Tjan.  In an article on the Harvard Business Review website, “The Key to Shorter, Better Meetings,” he outlined three points that should cover the purpose for every meeting:

1. To inform and bring people up to speed.
2. To seek input from people.
3. To ask for approval.

By examining how a meeting fits into these points, we can be more focused and aware of our time and goals.

I appreciate the three points, as they keep the meeting clear, focused, and open for two-way communication. Sometimes I find that not every meeting, however, needs approval, or needs input, or needs education. Different meetings can serve different purposes.

I have found something interesting, however. We seem to think meetings should last at least one hour.  But I have found with good partnerships, people know the answer as to whether it will work, and what role, usually within 20 minutes. If each party knows their vision extremely well, they are able to communicate it succinctly and the meeting can be purposeful and short.

20 minutes.

And, it’s inspiring when you are on the same page. Then get back to work to make the partnership happen, rather than speak about it!

2 thoughts on “How Long Are Your Meetings?

  1. Derek

    20 minutes!? If everyone is on the same page that’s nice but then probably a conference call is good enough to confirm decisions you’re certain everyone agrees to. I’ve found that even with good partnerships, allowing enough time together to discuss, gain understanding, build consensus, and overcome misunderstandings or mis-assumptions is critical. Don’t shortchange the process and don’t call people together for a 20 minute meeting unless people know that’s the time frame, it’ll take more time to get there than to meet!


    1. Pamela Hawley Post author

      Dear Derek, thank you for your comment and good points. I just had a call last week with a major foundation that lasted an hour that was so very fruitful. I could have spoken with them for hours!

      We talked about models which worked, values, lessons learned, and how we could have a better macro impact on the nonprofit, forprofit and social entrepreneurship realms. A very important discussion that can truly affect our world. There shouldn’t be any time limit on those types conversations.

      There are some type of partnerships, however — not discussions — that naturally come to consensus within 20 minutes.

      However, I would not, as you noted above — ask for a 20 minute meeting. We’ve never done that.

      That puts an unnecessary constraint on the wonderful ideas which could flow from a meeting. We don’t know, when we walk into a meeting, how it will transpire. So we need to have that openness and space to receive and discuss ideas, share values and get to know the partner.

      What I am saying is that you have a potential partnership meeting, there are times when the communications, values and objectives are so in sync that it will be 20 minutes. Some discussions veer off topic or lose focus. There is something very powerful about ‘getting’ the partner quickly: You can see their goals; they see your goals; and then you both are very quickly led to a harmonious win-win partnership for all. It can only happen if both parties are very clear about who they are. It’s very exciting when it does happen.

      It is not, as per my phonecall above, about strategy, our macro issues. Those shouldn’t be covered in 20 minutes. Those discussions need space to breathe and grow; they are a place to discover greater truths and how we can affect our world more deeply.

      Relationships are important and can’t be rushed. Some partnerships can be facilitated in 20 minutes. Others can’t. But the relationship is the most important.

      Thank you again for your comments, Derek.

      All my best, Pamela



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