How long and how often should team meetings be?

How long should team meetings be and how often should they be held and why, especially if I have to convince people to spend their time to attend?
Let's start with a base assumption: Meetings should be held only if they add value to the team, and should specifically require the group to do something constructive together. Otherwise, we could issue an email or a report that everyone can read when they feel like it, and be done with it.

So let's discuss purpose and approach for regular team meetings. The point of having a regular team meeting is to bring together at least the core project team—the functional area leaders for example—to discuss progress, issues and actions, with the main focus on ensuring that everyone is still in sync with the goals and the plan and resolving anything that truly needs the group's attention. All meetings should have an agenda that is communicated in advance, so everyone can prepare whatever they need to bring to ensure a productive discussion. A standard agenda for regular team meetings also helps set consistent expectations for types of information the meeting will cover.

The goal should be a meeting of no longer than one hour to quickly review where the project is, highlight issues, look ahead to looming milestones, and make sure everyone has what they need. An hour allows time for discussion, but within a prescribed timeframe. Issues that need more time can be handled in an extension of the meeting or a separate meeting, with only those people really needed in attendance.

Even with these constraints, this could be a lot to cover in one hour if you have a big project. But it can be accomplished, with careful preparation and diligent attention to how the meeting is run. It is absolutely critical to focus on current and upcoming activities and to review only by exception. There is little point in discussing a task that is on schedule or complete. The value is in addressing issues, critical action items, and risks. Many team meetings go off track and get a bad name as a waste of time because they ask people to report ad hoc on what they're doing, they allow wide ranging discussion of issues that don't involve the entire group, or they go deep into trying to solve one problem without thought for what else should get covered.

Meeting frequency depends upon a few factors: the rate of change on the project, the amount of risk, and the size of the project team. A project progressing very quickly to an aggressive schedule may call for fewer meetings but more in-depth in coverage. In that case, progress should be monitored closely enough through management-by-walking-around, which is less disruptive and more informative anyway. If the risk is high due to uncertainty, more frequent but possibly shorter meetings may be needed so the team can discuss the latest issues and decide on the best approach to move forward to the next step. Large projects, which might contain multiple subprojects, may have subteam meetings focused on the everyday work and actions, and less frequent full project team meetings where each subteam summarizes progress and issues and the core functional team members make sure all the parts are still going to come together to meet the overall goals.

One huge admonition is this: A regular team meeting should not be used to "collect status information." It is inefficient to have team members report out "round-robin" on a week or more of work in a team meeting. It is mind numbing to ask people to report on each and every action item on the list during the team meeting (and worse to have to sit through it). It's the project manager's job to get a handle on what's up with the project outside the meeting. That information is added to the agenda, and the project manager comes armed with those topics, actions, and risks that truly need consideration and discussion by the team. Team members can bring up items of concern as well, if they haven't previously surfaced them, but they should have surfaced them with the project manager before the meeting!

To learn more about meetings and their management, we provide a number of resources on team meetings—including guidelines and templates for preparation, agendas, and conduct of these meetings—in our resource index under Meetings.

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