Almost every organization has too many meetings with too many people in them that run too long. Most organizations eventually get to the point where their middle managers can’t do their “real” work during the day because they’re running from meeting to meeting or video call to video call. One of the most impactful things executives onboarding into new roles can do is to call a halt to the madness and eliminate, combine, spread out, shorten, thin, and manage meetings better.

Ask six questions:

  1. Do we need this meeting?
  2. Can we combine it with others?
  3. Can it happen less frequently?
  4. Can we do it in less time?
  5. Can fewer people attend?
  6. How can we manage it better?

The genesis of standing meetings

Standing meetings follow a natural progression and eventually take on a life of their own.

At first, small groups of people work together seamlessly. They talk with each other on a regular basis and know what each other are doing and thinking.

Then, at some point, they each start specializing and doing things without the others around. Somewhere in there, someone misses something and they realize they need to have some sort of regular check-in meetings to keep coordinated.

As the organization grows, the number of attendees at the regular check-in meetings grows.

Then sub-groups grow and need their own regular check-in meetings.

Before they know it and without anyone planning it, there are multiple layers of check-in meetings coupled with pre-meeting prep sessions and post-meeting follow-up sessions with people thinking they need to show up at every meeting to stay in the loop and look like they are motivated.

From this point on, the meetings take over and people are serving the needs of the meetings instead of the meetings serving the needs of the people who have become addicted to meetings.

Any time I took over a new leadership role in my past life I had people pause all the weekly reports. Then we waited to see which of the paused reports other people asked for. As soon as anyone asked for a report, we re-started it. It was surprising how many reports we could cut without anyone noticing.

It’s the same with meetings.


Some meetings no longer serve the purpose they were designed for. Make them go away. Have a bias to eliminate more, rather than less. If someone complains about a missed meeting, reinstate. You may be surprised how many meetings can disappear without anyone noticing.


Mash up or batch some meetings together into one. This will save time and force people to focus on the most important issues in each meeting, dealing with other issues in smaller groups.

Spread out

Some weekly meetings can be every other week or monthly. Some monthly meetings can be every other month or quarterly. You get the progression.


Some 60-minute meetings can be 30 minutes. Some two-hour meetings can be an hour. Similar to spreading out, you get the progression.


The ideal meeting size is 7 people +/- 2. Less than 5 and you miss out on some diversity of thinking. More than 9 and people have to fight for air time. All anyone can do in a meeting is learn, contribute, decide, or waste time. Include only those required for others to learn, that can contribute, or need to be part of the decision. Send everyone else the notes. They’ll send you back a thank you note.

Manage better

Five steps to more effective meetings:

  1. Understand the meeting’s place in the broader journey. It’s not about the meeting itself, or even the meeting experience. It’s about how the meeting moves its participants forward along the path and fits with everything else.
  2. OBJECTIVE and INTENT. Set an overall single objective for the meeting and clear expectations for learning, contributions, and decisions by agenda item and attendee in order to align with the single objective and with the meeting’s place in the broader journey. We need to do X in order to enable Y.
  3. PREWORK. Make sure to get appropriate pre-work and pre-reading to people far enough in advance for all to learn/contribute to their fullest potential.
  4. DELIVERY. Manage meeting participation and timing to optimize learning, contributions and action-oriented decisions.
  5. FOLLOW-THROUGH. Get meeting notes out promptly to memorialize decisions and actions, kicking off the preparation for the next meeting and implementation of decisions and actions.

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