I’ll admit I’m kind of a stickler about showing up on time. While I’m reasonable enough to know there are unexpected things that can’t be helped, most meeting tardiness is completely avoidable.
People who show up late are responsible for plenty of frustration and waste. It’s time you make solving this problem a priority.
Think of all the meetings you go to that last about an hour. Starting 10 minutes late for a one-hour meeting is flushing 16.7 percent of the meeting time down the drain. Imagine wasting that amount of time across the organization throughout the course of a year. Yikes! This adds up to a major opportunity.
If you don’t nip this problem in the bud, it quickly grows and becomes part of the organization’s culture. I can’t tell you how many times a meeting organizer has said to me, “We’ll give it another five minutes. We usually run a little behind here.” When I hear that, I have two thoughts:
- This problem is habitual
- Unless someone takes strong action to change things, it will only get worse.
Here are four ways to deal with the problem.
Voice your concern
When everyone eventually does show up, assuming you decided to wait for them all, begin the meeting by saying something like, “I want to spend a few moments talking about a concern I have. Our meetings rarely begin on time. This bothers me, because it seems wasteful. How do others feel about this?”
You may hear silence for a few moments, but once someone else chimes in, know that your concerns will be overwhelmingly supported. Of course, opening this discussion is going to chew up some time you wanted to spend on something else. You’ll have to rearrange your agenda. Think of it as an investment that will pay off in future meetings.
Now if it turns out that only one person is regularly late, bringing it up in front of the group may be viewed as overly aggressive. In this instance, have an offline conversation with the person and try to win his compliance for future meetings. Share your observation of the tardiness, along with the impact you believe it has on the meeting. The conversation shouldn’t be about shaming and scolding, but rather awareness building and problem solving.
Start the meeting on time
Even if everyone’s not present, call the meeting to order at the scheduled time. If the leader is late, somebody else—you’re qualified—should take the lead and start the meeting. You may figure out that there are things you can productively work on that do not require the missing people. If you start, and they eventually do show up, make it their problem to get themselves back up to speed. This approach shows them they are not indispensable.
Implement the five-minute rule
If, after five minutes, anyone who is essential to the meeting is not present, you adjourn. This is especially effective if the latecomer is the one who called the meeting. Make it the latecomer’s problem to reconvene the meeting.
Use caution with this strategy. It can be dangerous if the boss called the meeting and is late. One way to lessen the risk is to decide, in advance as a group, if you want to use this rule. That way, if the group adjourns, it won’t come as a surprise. It takes a real hero to lead the march out of the conference room.
Mind your prep work
Not feeling like a hero? You can prevent lateness with creative scheduling and diligent prep work. Here are three specific ideas that will help:
- Don’t start on the hour. 9:15 is a perfectly good time, as are 10:30, 2:45, and even 1:22. That last one may earn you some snarky comments, but who cares. Your goal is to create the necessary gaps in the latecomers’ schedules so that they aren’t late because of back-to-back meetings.
- Remind all participants before the meeting how important it is that they arrive on time. You can tell them there’s a lot that needs doing and not much time to do it. You can also tell them the first agenda item requires everyone’s presence. You get the idea.
- If you have chronic latecomers, call or send a note the day before to ask them to please be on time and provide them with the reason it’s critical they are.
Meeting tardiness is a problem worth solving
So often a company’s culture seems completely messed up and dysfunctional. It might be that the place has more than its fair share of bad habits. Starting meetings late is one, and relatively easy to fix. It just requires someone willing to take up the challenge.
I wish you luck.