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Time Crunched In Your Virtual Meetings? How to Allocate Timing in Your Meeting Design

January 13, 2021 2:57 pm

One question we are often asked in our workshops; is how do you know how much time to allocate each topic to ensure you don’t over or under load the agenda? Often, time limits for meetings are driven by ‘this is the way we do it, or have always done it’, rather than considering the unique outcomes for a particular meeting.

When putting together each agenda topic, the timing must be considered, especially these days when people are spending an average of 3 hours – 5 hours per day in virtual meetings. Determining how much time to allot per agenda topic should be based on the following variables:

Variable Takes more time Takes less time

Type of Session


·     Decision-making

·      Problem-solving

·     Status updating

·      Brainstorming

Type of Decision-making

·     Consensus building

·      Compromise

·     Majority voting

·      Delegation

Number of Attendees ·      Greater than 10

·     Up to 10

·      Sub-groups

Degree of Resistance or Anticipated Conflict ·      Culture or history of in-fighting, cliques, negative past experience, poor leadership ·     Culture or history of collaboration, teamwork, positive past experience
Complexity of Topic (# of steps to go through) ·      Strategic planning, re-engineering, process improvement, mediation, etc. ·     Feedback session, brainstorming, status update, informal discussion
Experience of Facilitator ·      New facilitator, little experience in running process or managing people ·     Experienced facilitator; has lots of training, tools and processes in their toolkit

Facilitation First’s Guideline for Timing

  1. Allocate at least 5 to 1 minute per person if ‘everyone participates’ is a norm
  2. Allow up to 2 – 3 minutes per person when in pair/triad or sub-groups
  3. Always add 10 – 20 minutes ‘slippage’ time per agenda topic to take care of the inevitable ‘stuff happens’ or a more complex or highly vested topic
  4. During in-person meetings, whenever people have to move seats, change tables, exit to breakout rooms add an additional 5 -10 minutes pending on distance to travel. When using breakouts in virtual meetings, allow an extra 2-4 minutes
  5. For each agenda item identify ‘informing’ activities that will be required (presentations, review of documents, etc.) and factor these into the total time needed for each item. You can speed this up by providing materials ahead of the meeting as a pre-read
  6. Always be prepared to defer agenda topics to make room for a current topic based on the group’s interest to go longer and/or deeper
  7. Setting norms typically takes 5 – 15 minutes pending the degree of safety required
  8. Breaks are best to occur every 0 – 1.5 hours (10 – 15 minutes). Ideally, virtual meetings will not be scheduled for more than 90 minutes to 2 hours without a break. Meetings longer than 2 hours should have a 10-minute break every hour
  9. Lunch can always be shorter if you call it working lunch and have food brought to the room (20 – 30 min.)
  10. Closure and defining next steps ranges from 15 – 30 minutes pending number of action items to review
  11. if the starting time is 9:00 a.m. then start on time! Not doing so condones an arbitrary arrival time.  This applies to closing a meeting on time as well
  12. Use a timer to manage your and group’s time and/or assign a timekeeper. Make sure to check in and monitor the time!

What have we missed? What timing guidelines do you consider when designing the agenda?

Let us Know

Do you have a unique meeting challenge not covered by one of our blog posts? We’re always looking for different dilemmas to discuss in our articles!