The meeting was scheduled to start at 11:00. It’s 11:06 and the person running the meeting says…
Let’s just give everyone a couple more minutes to arrive…
And you think…
Sure. I’ll just stare out the window. No worries. I’ve got nothing better to do.
This is frustrating all around: for the person who planned the meeting, for those who were on time, and often, for those who are late and get the joy of walking in and feel everyone glare at them.
People are late to meetings for many reasons:
- They have had a genuine emergency that caused their tardiness
- They are subconsciously exerting power over the group
- They are chronically late to most appointments (see this article)
- They have not allowed any “travel time” in between their back-to-back meetings
- There is a culture in the company or team that supports a more lackadaisical attitude toward punctuality
While it is important to be patient with occasional late-comers, you can still respect the on-timers.
The next time you oversee a meeting, try a few of the tips below to help round up everyone at the same time.
Tips to Start Meetings on Time with Everyone Present
Before the meeting:
- Send a meeting invitation that includes a clear agenda. List the topics, the persons responsible, and the time people will be presenting. Put late offenders at the beginning of the agenda.
- Include these words on the meeting invitation: Please note that this meeting will begin and end on time.
- Confirm the meeting by email a day or two prior. Remind participants about the purpose and anticipated outcomes of the meeting and what they will be contributing.
- Set up a tardiness fine of $1 for every minute a person is late. Donate the money to charity or toward a quarterly “Late Lunch” for the team.
At the meeting:
- Start the meeting on time. Don’t punish punctuality.
- Continue the meeting even as latecomers enter the room. Do not rehash what was discussed before their arrival.
- Close the door when the meeting begins.
- Cancel or end the meeting if the key decision-makers are not present. Don’t feel the need to keep everyone in the room if the goals of the meeting cannot be met.
- Finish at or before the promised end time. This sends a clear message that you are respectful of people’s time.
After the meeting:
If your boss is always late:
- Find out if she needs to be present at all for meetings such as the ones for which she tends to be tardy. Perhaps an email after the meeting that summarizes what happened would be sufficient.
- Gain his buy-in for starting the meeting on time, even if he is not present.
- Check if a different day or time would fit her schedule better so she could be there at the start of the meeting.
If a subordinate is always late:
- Speak to the associate privately and try to find out why he is chronically late for work or meetings.
- Make this article or even this book required reading before the discussion. She should come to you with a plan to address the issues.
- Discuss the resources that the company is willing to provide to help him improve. Maybe a time management class or, ahem, a productivity specialist can help?
- If the tardiness continues, you may need to initiate a performance improvement plan.
To summarize: respect the time of those who were punctual and offer professional “grace” to those who were tardy.
After all, the next time, it could be you making a grand entrance into a meeting that is already in progress…
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Dr. Melissa Gratias (pronounced "Gracious") is a work psychologist who helps overwhelmed and underappreciated businesspeople be more focused and effective. Since 2007, thousands of people have graduated with honors from her onsite sessions, distance coaching, productivity seminars, and corporate consulting projects. Based in Savannah, Georgia, Melissa is available for nationwide consulting and speaking engagements. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 912-417-2505. Sign up for her free monthly e-newsletter or visit her website, melissagratias.com.