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In praise of long meetings

A long meeting should last at least two hours.

A colleague and I discovered this by chance while we were collaborating on an open source project. Our meetings were long because we only had time to catch up once a week and because we had a lot to get through.

After a while we noticed our meetings fitted a pattern.

We would both run through our thoughts while the other listened. About an hour into the meeting, and after several shorter exchanges, we were up to speed on the other's thinking.

Our ideas were now common property and we were free to criticise them without prejudice because they belonged to no one. Together we'd knock together all kinds of ideas in the hope of smoothing and polishing them.

We were usually tired and hungry by this point. But after several meetings, we noticed that something happened as we approached the end of the second hour. A rush of new ideas invariably tumbled us into a new and better plan.

We repeated this process every week until the project, Pledge Works, was finished. Having multiple long meetings was key to its success.

Other benefits of long meetings:

  • Job titles become less important
  • Everyone gets a chance to speak at length
  • Solutions bubble up as workable ideas replace opinions
  • Consensus is derived not imposed
  • New thinking emerges
  • Collaboration improves between a fixed group of people

We've had purposefully long or open ended meetings with others with similar positive results. We know this approach works with three people; it probably won't work well with more than five - everyone has to put their cards on the table before they're free to listen to what others have to say.


NB There are times when short meetings are appropriate.

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