Whether you are chairing them or an attendee, love them or hate them, meetings are an essential part of any successful business. However, efficiency and innovation are also key to longevity and continued stable growth.
The world is constantly changing, and with it the way we work. NoHQ, like other companies willing to adapt, believes that good meeting cadence ensures the time spent in meetings is productive and contributes to a successful working environment. So, what do you need to know and do to make sure you are still using meetings to the advantage of all involved? Let’s Find Out
What does meeting cadence mean?
Ever been told by a senior colleague, “there will be team update meetings on a daily cadence.”? Simply put, meeting cadence means the frequency an organisation holds its meetings. It applies to all levels of meetings within a business, from low level department catch-ups to board meetings or business meetings between separate organisations.
Good meeting cadence has evolved over recent years. As human knowledge has expanded, expertise has become more specialised. Where only a few decades ago, a good manager, supervisor, or CEO knew how to do the job of everyone under them, today, this is becoming less common. Professional careers are far more polarised than they were, so it is often impossible to micro-manage team members. Those that still try to micro-manage, usually meet resistance, and end up damaging morale and efficiency.
Why is meeting cadence so important?
Modern business has become addicted to meetings. A culture has developed that dictates a business must have them regularly to have a chance at being successful. But this mindset is often causing more harm than good. Most business meetings today are too big, too long, poorly structured, and happen too often.
Microsoft conducted a survey in 2005 of 40,000 employees worldwide to find out how they viewed meetings. They found the person heading a meeting commonly rated the outcome as successful and the meeting worth-while. However, attendees were less generous. When asked to rate how useful they found most meetings to be, a staggering 69% of employees scored them as an unproductive use of time. In other studies, 50% of employees said they would rather be doing any other boring, tedious, or otherwise unpleasant work-related task than attend a team meeting. Meetings are often seen as a waste of time and energy that would be better spent on their “actual job.”
Getting the right balance is essential when planning meetings. Too many can be just as, if not more harmful than too few.
Things to remember to get the most out of meetings.
Meetings are essential to the smooth running of most businesses. When successful they ensure that everyone knows what is expected of them, they keep managers abreast of progress and any difficulties, and solutions to problems can be found quickly. But how many meetings is too much?
To find the meeting cadence that is right for your business or department, you must first maximize the efficiency of the meetings and ensure all involved benefit from it. This will in turn help you decide how often to hold meetings.
There are many common philosophies surrounding meetings that research has proven wrong, some of these are:
- The more attendees the better.
- The best length of time for a meeting is one hour.
- A scheduled one-hour meeting should last at least the full hour.
- More meetings equal greater efficiency and higher profits in the long-term.
- Agendas are key to a successful meeting.
- It is essential to attend all meetings you have been invited to.
Let us explore these in brief.
The more attendees the better.
It’s a misconception that the larger the meeting, the more productive it will be. Research has shown that the greater the number of attendees, the more likely members are to “zone out” and try to hide within the herd. This is called social lethargy. An individual in this situation may see it as an opportunity to take a break from their workday and let the other members of the meeting do all the legwork.
Another issue with large meetings is there are often people who do not need to be there. It is common for senior staff to invite people to meetings to appear inclusive when in fact those people bring nothing to the meeting and are unproductive during that time. These attendees may also get stressed about this fact themselves, aware they may be getting behind on important tasks while “wasting” time sat in a meeting that has little or no relevance to them.
The result of too many bodies in a meeting is often disruption, fidgety attendees, loss of direction, lack of continuity, lack of quality input, over-running on time, and damage to morale. Research shows the optimal size of a meeting is seven individuals. Try to limit the number of attendees to this as much as possible to maximize productivity.
Remember, according to a study at Bain & Company, a group’s decision-making ability reduces by 10% for every additional person added to the recommended seven. Experts believe this is because larger groups are harder to guide, and the more people involved in a decision-making process means a greater chance of encountering obstacles in the way of achieving a favourable outcome.
The late Steve Jobs once famously refused to attend a meeting of tech experts hosted by then-President Barack Obama because he felt there were too many attendees to achieve anything meaningful.
The best length of time for a meeting is one hour and a scheduled one-hour meeting should last at least the full hour.
A successful meeting should end when the goal or goals have been achieved. There is no need to “pad it out” if all topics have been covered. If all attendees are happy with the outcome, let them disperse and get back to their current projects, get a head-start on any actions delegated during the meeting, or just have a moment to digest the points covered in their own time. The latter will also give them a chance to come back to you with any concerns or constructive ideas.
There are more articles on the subject of keeping workers motivated and several other topics over at NoHQ, an educational platform for remote companies that strives to provide resources to better manage the world of remote working.
Meetings should be as short as possible. Parkinson’s law states that the more time allocated to a task, the longer it will take and visa-versa. In other words, give a person, or persons, an hour to complete a twenty-minute task, they will take most, if not all the hour to do it. Likewise, give them fifteen minutes and most will complete the task within the twenty minutes you expect.
Try to keep most meetings to a maximum of thirty minutes. Doing so will help the meeting stay on track and keep those involved fully engaged. Thirty minutes is far easier to catch up than an hour, so has less impact on an individual’s workday, and causes less stress and damage to staff morale. Employees are then less apprehensive about attending future meetings, making them more likely to actively take part.
For daily team catch-ups, try short meetings [or “huddles”] of no more than fifteen minutes. Hold them while standing in an appropriate space and at the same time each day. Keeping team update meetings brief and ending them with a cheer or catchphrase has shown to boost morale and efficiency.
More in-depth and larger meetings like quarterly reviews can be longer but you should still try to keep them to ninety minutes or less if possible.
Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo! is known to insist no meeting lasts longer than ten minutes.
More meetings equal greater efficiency and higher profits in the long-term.
This one used to be true [ish], but times have changed. Estimates from the Harvard Business Review states that American ‘workers currently have around fifty-five million meetings every day’. Compare that to 1976 when the average was eleven million, and you can see businesses have gone mad for meetings. Bear in mind we now have many tools at our disposal today that should curtail the number of meetings needed. Email, business management software, computer reporting, etc, all remove the need for many items historically discussed and presented in meetings. So why are we having more meetings than ever before?
Before the digital age, frequent meetings were essential to help businesses run smoothly. In simple terms, the more [high quality] meetings a company held, the more successful that business tended to be. The problem is, over the decades, business culture has confused high quality with quantity and a lack of relevant training has allowed this myth to perpetuate among management-level staff. According to Lucidchart.com, unnecessary time spent in meetings costs US business $3 billion every single day.
To reduce time wasted in meetings, decide if the meeting is really needed. For example, if the reason for the meeting is to impart information or instructions, consider if an email would be more appropriate.
One of Elon Musk’s rules for good meeting etiquette is “no frequent meetings.”
Agendas are key to a successful meeting.
Agendas are useful if a meeting has many topics to cover, although complex meetings are mentally taxing, tend to be tedious, and disrupt workflow, so should be avoided where possible. Certain groups, such as business consultants trying to pedal agenda-planning tools and software, have artificially inflated the importance of agendas. It is usually much more constructive to decide on a clear and precise purpose for the meeting.
A clearly defined purpose allows for less rigid discussions and more innovative thinking. If a meeting has more than one purpose, it may then be right to use an agenda, although consider whether it would be better to plan separate meetings for each item.
If you decide an agenda is needed, make sure to cover the most important and urgent items first. Contact all the invitees well in advance of the meeting, informing them of the purpose[s] and ask them for suggestions of what they would like you to include in the agenda. You can often increase the level of engagement from attendees by including them in the planning process in this way. Do not plan the agenda at the last minute and do not reuse agendas from earlier meetings.
It is essential to attend all meetings you have been invited to.
Another of Elon Musk’s rules for meetings is, “if you have nothing to contribute to the meeting, leave.” This sounds harsh, but it makes sense. If your time is better spent being productive elsewhere and the meeting is of no benefit to you, nor you to it, then there is no point in attending. This is also a good reason for holding separate meetings instead of having multiple items on the agenda. Some attendees may not have anything to contribute to the new topic and it may be better to replace them with a different member of the team.
It is the responsibility of both the meeting organiser and the invitees to decide if attending will be productive or not. Many managers, when planning a meeting, invite people simply because there is a fear that not inviting them may cause them to feel unimportant.
On the other side, there is an unwritten rule that you must attend all meetings you are invited to through fear of being seen as “not a team player.” If an invitee does not believe their attendance will be of benefit to themselves or the business, then it is perfectly acceptable if not preferable for them to decline the invite respectfully and politely.
Be sure to give a copy of the meeting’s minutes to those that do not need to attend a meeting but may need to know about the information discussed and any decisions that were made, so they can be kept up to speed.
How to plan good meeting cadence.
Good meeting cadence does not have to be set in stone. It is acceptable and sometimes necessary to adjust the cadence if circumstances demand it. The important thing to remember is to strike a balance between allowing autonomy of teams and team members and managing them effectively.
Various kinds of meetings need different cadences, and the right balance will vary from business to business. Listed below are some commonly used meeting cadences.
- Small team catchup: daily.
- Standups: weekly
- One-to-one reviews: biweekly.
- Manager / leadership meeting: monthly.
- Quarterly review: quarterly.
To plan a good meeting cadence, you must take all relevant information into account and adjust the frequency depending on the type of meeting and the circumstances. Having a set, planned cadence for meetings lets everyone know where they stand and helps cohesive organisation within the business.
There are more articles on the organization of a remote business at NoHQ, an educational platform helping remote companies manage and run their businesses effectively through sound advice and an ever evolving community of experts.
Do not be afraid to adjust the cadence of meetings. For example, delaying or cancelling a daily catchup if the team is working well towards a looming deadline and a meeting would only cause disruption and increase anxiety among the workers. Or likewise, meetings may need to be held more frequently in situations where greater levels of guidance or regular situational updates are required until a resolution is reached.
- Decide if the meeting is needed and employ other methods where appropriate.
- Clearly and precisely define the purpose of the meeting.
- Keep numbers as small as possible and only invite those who will contribute positively.
- Plan a new agenda when one is required, keeping the most important topics at the top.
- Keep the meeting as short as possible. Try to stick to the maximums of, fifteen minutes for team or individual catchups, 30 minutes for larger meetings, and 90 minutes for in-depth meetings like quarterly reviews and planning.
- Adjust the cadence if needed to avoid disruption to projects, deal with problems, or where extra guidance or frequent situation updates are necessary.
Meetings are an important part of business. This guidance should help you make them seem less “a necessary evil” and more an enjoyable time of collaboration and comradery. For further educational resources on how to effectively manage a remote business, check out more articles at, NoHQ.