Meetings with a Mission, Part 7: Set a Time Frame

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

7. Set a time frame. 

How long should a meeting run?

Common sense would seem to indicate that you should plan to meet for as long as it takes in order to get through the items on the agenda.  If that takes fifteen minutes, then so be it.  If it takes an hour, then great.

More often than not, business owners and managers can be a bit contrived about the length of times their meetings go.  I do remember a few meetings here and there where and hour was dedicated, but only 30-45 minutes worth of items were on the agenda.  But because the company had scheduled it for an hour, everyone just sat around in the room gabbing and conversing.  The mindset the company inadvertently created was that they were paying for an hour of the team's time, even if it didn't take that long. To be sure, the CEO would have probably had a coronary if he found out that ten team members were taking fifteen minutes to do absolutely nothing productive!  But that common sense approach of ending the meeting when the meeting is over had not trickled down to the meeting room, evidently.

The other type of meetings I've been in far too often are the ones that have more agenda items than can possibly be covered productively and qualitatively in the time frame that had been set. Here's what happens when meetings are run this way:

  • Items get rushed.  They don't get discussed thoroughly, and consequently, solid teamwork isn't built into the process of making a decision.  Therefore, there's little buy-in, and the quality of team members' work is found lacking.
  • A hidden agenda becomes the elephant in the room.  Team members can feel that the meeting is really about the real agenda of the leader or manager, and that the team members are simply there to play along and talk a little about agenda items, so that the whole context has the look and feel of teamwork, when in fact it does not.
  • Decisions get made too quickly.  With not enough time to thoroughly discuss things, decisions sometimes get made just so the agenda item can be marked off the list.  Sometimes this is because the powers-that-be expect more to be done than is rationally and humanly possible.  Sometimes it's because the manager or business owner isn't taking the extra time to think through the agenda carefully. 
  • Meetings run over, and people get antsy.  When a time frame for a meeting is set, and everyone knows that a meeting is supposed to end at 11:00 AM, their minds are already geared toward that time.  Going one or two minutes is mentally tolerable.  But when you go five or ten or even fifteen minutes over, people naturally get antsy and their attention span is drastically reduced, resulting a drastic reduction in their quality of participation and therefore their work.
The long and short of it is this:

Let your agenda dictate your meeting time frame.  

This means you have to sit down and think about the agenda for longer than thirty seconds.  It may be helpful to print out the agenda and ask yourself one of the following two questions, then answer it in the margin beside each agenda item.
  1. How long do I want to take in this meeting to discuss and decide?  Use this pathway when you're running meetings of more than 3-5 people.  The more people you have in a meeting, the longer it will take to discuss something thoroughly.  In meetings this large, communicate to your team members to think through it thoroughly on their own and bring their salient points to the meeting to talk it though.  A meeting with more than 3-5 people cannot effectively be a brainstorming meeting, where things are discussed in depth.  You are the owner, manager, leader, or facilitator.  Take charge and put a time limit on each agenda item and facilitate fearlessly and firmly!
  2. How long will it actually take to discuss and decide?  For meetings that have 3-5 people or less, a longer discussion time is more productive.  So ask yourself, based on your experience in previous meetings, how long you think it will take to thoroughly discuss it? 
For me personally, I am usually in meetings with less than 3-5 people and the second question is the pathway I generally take.  I have made the mistake too many times of putting too much on the agenda, leaving us all feeling rushed when we're done.  To be sure, because of the size of our current project, we are all comfortable with the fact that it's going to take about two years (perhaps more) to finish it.  As a result, there are almost always things on our agenda that get pushed to the following week.  

As a rule, I've learned to put far less items on our agenda so that we can thoroughly discuss everything, and have a solid sense of accomplishment about our decisions and delegated tasks by the end of the meeting.  I think ultimately that's what's important because without it the quality of work suffers since the creativity that drives quality work is stifled by too much to talk about and get done. Meetings should leave people envisioned and equipped for what comes next.  Therefore, meeting time frames should create the environment do just that.

Read Part 8: Prioritize the Agenda

About the Author: Rob is a follower of Jesus at Jubilee Church.  From there he pursues Jesus' mission at Revive Consignment as the Business & Operations Development Director, as well as at Jubilee Church of Atlanta, in Woodstock, GA. From there he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 20 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.

You Might Also Like