It bugs me a little when meetings don’t start on time. I’m fairly punctual myself and while I have no problem waiting five minutes for a meeting to start, it pains me to see ten people waiting fifteen minutes for one or two other people who’re late. It’s particularly annoying when it’s the same people who’re late every time.
Also, when some people are habitually late other participants start thinking “hey, meetings never start on time anyway, I’ll drop in ten minutes late.” It’s a downward slide from there :o)
Here are three steps you can take to get your meetings started on time – including one slightly weird suggestion that works amazingly well.
1: Agree what “The meeting starts at 3PM” means
What does “We meet at 3” mean? Does it mean that people should get there five minutes early so the meeting is ready to start at 3? Does it mean that people arrive at 3 and the meeting starts whenever people are ready? Or does “We meet at 3PM” really mean 3:15?
Different groups can have different standards but it’s a lot easier when everyone in the group has the same standard. Take five minutes out of a meeting to agree on this.
2: Start the meeting on time
It’s simple: Start the meeting at the appointed time according to your definition above, regardless of how many participants are still missing. Waiting for them only teaches them that it’s OK to be late.
3: Make lateness visible
This is a slightly strange suggestion that I’ve used to great effect: In the meeting room, place a glass or cup for each person labelled with their names. Then buy some red and green marbles and keep them in a jar next to the cups. Every person who arrives in time for a meeting places a green marble in his glass. Every person who arrives after the meeting starts places a red marble in his glass. This is not punishment it’s just a way of making the issue visible.
After a month or so of meetings, you may find that some people’s glasses tend heavily towards red marbles, making it very visible who’s habitually late.
This simple tool is remarkably effective at getting people to arrive on time, and sometimes no further action is required – the problem more or less goes away by itself.