How Often Should We Have Meetings?

October 26, 2021

As a result of an over-reliance on online meetings as a catch all solution, meetings have gotten a bad rap lately. One of the key factors in having successful meetings is answering the question: "How often should we have meetings"?

How often should we meet and why does it matter?

Meetings are vitally important to the success of our organisations. These discussions are where some of our most important work originates from and where the power of collaborative communication thrives.

In recent times, online meetings have become an irreplaceable component in a companies communication stack - taking on even more responsibility than in an office-centric workplace. Some teams have thrived in the remote environment, while others have found the transition difficult.

As a result of being treated like a catch all solution, meetings have gotten a bad rap lately. The frustration expressed with meetings is tightly connected to the Meeting Cadence of our organisations.

We can be frustrated by having our time absorbed in back to back meetings, while feeling like we are struggling to get any real work done. On the flip side, having too little meetings leaves us with not enough information to do our work properly and feeling like we are in the dark.

One of the key factors in having successful meetings is answering the question: "How often should we have meetings"?

Is your calendar overcrowded or have you been forgotten? What is your meeting cadence?
Overcrowded or Forgotten? Figure out your cadence.

Determining how often teams should meet aka "Meeting Cadence" is definitely an art more than a science. It depends a lot on the function of the team, the company size, the topic discussion, project urgency... the list goes on.  But one thing is for sure, meetings are indispensable tools for any organisation and if handled properly can be extremely effective, dare i say it - maybe even enjoyable.

Caveat : this is by no means a comprehensive guide for all organisation types. In the interest of trying to create something valuable we have decided to focus on a selection of key meeting types; Project Teams, One on Ones and Leadership teams.

Let’s explore how you can find the right meeting cadence for your team. To add some colour to this topic (and a useful analogy), we can use the children's story 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears'.

Goldilocks Meeting Cadence
Figure out your Goldilocks Meeting Cadence

The Goldilocks Meeting Cadence

What does just right mean? How do we determine what the ideal cadence of meetings is for our team?

Remember Goldilocks and the three bears? Goldilocks explored the house of the three bears trying out their furniture and belongings, before stumbling upon their porridge. She tried out each one until she was satisfied. The first one was too hot. The second, too cold. But the third one was "just right.”

For Goldilocks, "just right" was the happy medium between hot and cold. For meetings similarly, we must determine what signifies our "just right".
When to meet? Figure out what is "just right for you and your teams.
When to meet? Figuring out the "just right"​ amount is hard.

Instead of hot or cold, the success of meetings is determined by whether we have them too often or not enough.

  • Too often : we have too many ineffective meetings unnecessarily, leading to the distraction and frustration of our teams. Team members experience Meeting Fatigue and loss of productivity.
  • Too little : we don't meet enough, our teams lose momentum and suffer from a lack of information and loss of direction. Team members feel in the dark.
  • Just right: teams collaboratively determine the ideal amount of times to meet that maintains healthy consistent momentum, and leave sufficient time blocks for focused work. Team members feel like the have the right information to do their jobs job and ample time for focused work.

How many meetings is too many? ... it depends🧐

It is difficult to provide a one size fits all answer and unfortunately the answer to this is “it depends”. However, through our research, talking with customers and years of experience we have developed 3 simple steps to help you set your meeting schedule.

We suggest that you consider 3 main things when setting the cadence of your meetings.

  1. Importance Urgency Matrix
  2. Interdependence vs Uncertainty
  3. Meeting type + Sync vs Async.

These sound a little complicated, but they are relatively straight forward.

If you want to explore these concept in more depth, the team at Lucid Meetings have been writing great stuff on this subject for years now and have helped inform our approach here.

Let’s explore.

Criteria for creating your Meetings Cadence

1. Importance vs Urgency Matrix

Figuring out your meeting cadence: Importance Urgency Matrix
Figuring out your meeting cadence: Importance Urgency Matrix

Understanding the fundamental difference between the urgent and the important is a key factor in deciding how often to meet. This framework ( also called the Eisenhower Matrix) helps with prioritisation and helps put shape on the meetings we need to have and how often.

2. Interdependence and uncertainty

Deciding your meeting cadence: Interdependence and Uncertainty Matrix
Figuring our your meeting cadence: Interdependence Uncertainty Matrix

Teams with more interdependence need to meet more often, and if the level of uncertainty with the project is high this may naturally require more frequent meetings.

As an example, software teams often have high interdependence levels with engineers relying on one another to complete work on schedule so a project stays on track. Smaller teams usually can communicate asynchronously even if they have dependencies on others. As teams scale up, these interdependencies need to be managed and often require a little more involved meeting schedules.

3. Meeting Type vs Async/Sync

For each meeting type there will be different cadences of course. We won't have an all hands every week and having one project team meeting bi-weekly will likely be too little. The meeting type will inform a certain baseline for the cadence, but the next question we should ask is how much of our meetings can be done asynchronously vs synchronously. Particularly, with distributed teams a huge amount of the communication previously handled "live" can be handled very well in an async fashion, if the right approaches are defined clearly.

One of the things all modern teams should be asking themselves is "how much of our live communication can be handled asynchronously?"

Internally at Clearword, one of the ways we set our own meeting schedule is to look at other successful teams for inspiration. To suggest a baseline from which you can then plot your own teams Meeting Cadence, we have suggested a minimum viable meeting cadence that you can start with based on our own team. This is what we work with at Clearword and our goal is to try and keep it as simple as possible. Work with your team to establish yours.

How often should we meet? Figuring out your meeting type will help you answer this!
How often should we meet?

Leadership meetings can be very responsive and vary drastically org to org, but usually a scheduled cadence is in place with ad-hoc meetings expected. For more specifics on Leadership Meeting cadence , this podcast has some great insights and the book 'Death by Meeting" by Patrick Lencioni is a classic in this area.

Other points to consider when discussing Meeting Cadence

Complexity Threshold

Do we have a protocol for when we reach the 'Complexity Threshold'? This is a term we use to describe the point at which it no longer makes sense to try and solve a problem or discussion asynchronously over Slack, email or otherwise.

You will usually be able to easily identify the complexity threshold when someone says "Lets just hop on a quick call to discuss". The problem is sufficiently complex that it will be quicker to discuss face to face (synchronously) than to keep going back and forth over text or other async means.

Make sure to identify with your team how we you want to handle Complexity Threshold moments so expectations are set.

Macro scheduling and time blocking.

Another topic to discuss is whether your team would like to block certain times on their calendar so they can have undistracted "focus time".This has become a popular method with some companies recently with many adopting no meeting Mondays or Fridays. Alternatively, try blocking mornings or evenings as 'Meeting Free' so teams can have solid blocks of time to concentrate, without being broken up by meetings.

For more reading on time blocking, check out this intro or an older post by Paul Graham - Makers and Managers schedule.

Summary

The 3 steps to figuring out when to have meetings and what is your meeting cadence
The 3 steps to figuring out when to have meetings and what is your meeting cadence

Getting your meeting cadence "just right" is critical in building a thriving Meeting Culture for your organisation.

Finding your Meeting Cadence is dynamic and will be a collaborative effort with your team - this will not be successful if just handed down from above.

Have an honest discussion with your team and ask them how they would like to meet. Maybe even experiment with time blocking or meeting free days to see how that works. As time moves on, gather feedback and tweak as necessary. Like we said, there is no perfect cadence for everyone - this is going to be unique to your team, industry, size and even project.

Best of luck and let us know what your teams Meeting Cadence looks like.