Start Meetings on Time With Everyone Present

It is frustrating to be on time for a meeting and then sit and wait for the stragglers. Whether those stragglers have had a genuine emergency or are simply exerting their power over the group, the punctual attendees are punished and the tardy ones are rewarded. One client told me: “I have to wait and make small talk with the rest while we wait for the ‘power trip’ guy to show up.”

Let’s not allow the late-to-the-meeting people to get the upper hand. There may be hope after all for the on-timers. The next time you are in charge of a meeting, think about trying a few of these ideas to help round up everyone in the same room at the same time.

Before the meeting send a meeting invitation through Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar. Include an agenda listing 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 to the meeting. 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 and specify that the money will be donated to charity. Mention this in advance so no one will be caught off guard. Another technique that a client shared is that she gives people points ranging from ½ to 2 points depending on how late they are to the meeting. If they miss the meeting altogether, they receive 3 points. Altogether, they are allowed five points; after that they are disinvited to the meeting.

Provide a limited number of snacks at the meeting. A friend shared with me how he insures that people show up for his meetings on time: “I found a strategy that worked with one group of doctors: I brought too few donuts to each meeting. It took the group a couple of months to realize that when they came late there was no food. I never said anything to the group, but it worked.”

Start the meeting on time. Why should those who are on time be penalized? Despite what the latecomers may think, no one has time to spare. Do not count people being on time if they walk into the meeting room, put down their stuff, and leave to get coffee. They are still late if they do not return before the scheduled start time. Continue the meeting even as latecomers enter the room. Acknowledge them with a nod and keep going. There is no need to review what had been discussed before their arrival. There is no need to reschedule the meeting if people, especially the key players, do not show up.

Lock the door two minutes after the start time. Employees at a high-tech company in California started to do this so their boss would get the idea that his late arrival was not appreciated. Of course, they opened the door when the boss knocked. While this radical approach is not for every boss he/she will get the idea quickly.

End the meeting on time. This sends a clear message that you are respectful of people’s time. Don’t forget to thank the persons who donated money because they were late.

After the meeting set a time to talk with your boss if he/she is always late. Meet with her at another time. Ask her opinion about starting the meeting without her. Check if a different time would fit the boss’ schedule better so she could be there at the start of the meeting. What if the subordinate is always late? Speak to the subordinate privately and try to find out why the person is chronically late for meetings. Explore how you can help and the types of resources that would be beneficial. Maybe a time management class or maybe, ahem, a productivity specialist can help. Warn the person first if he continues to be tardy for meetings; if the situation does not improve, you may need to initiate a performance improvement plan.