Is it acceptable to start a meeting on time even if people are late? The answer is usually yes. If attendees know a meeting will not start on time, they may be purposely late. They may take advantage of the “extra time” they now have to make a last-minute phone call or write a quick email. By waiting for the latecomers you are tacitly giving them permission to arrive whenever they choose. Even beginning 10 minutes late is wasted time for the on-time attendees and the company.
Let’s not allow the late-to-the-meeting attendees to get the upper hand. Have you ever thought about giving an incentive for people to arrive on time? There may be hope after all for the people who are ready to start at the appointed hour. Snacks and/or drinks definitely help!
There are other ways to encourage people not to be tardy. Try emailing everyone attending the meeting a few days ahead requesting that they please arrive on time. Or, remind them a few times as the day gets closer (just like an Evite). Perhaps stop by the offices of people you know are often late and remind them that it is rude to make others wait for them.
Or move the meeting to a different location. An attorney told me that he did just that with a staff member who consistently showed up late. At the beginning of the meeting, the attorney invited everyone to a nearby coffee shop. Over drinks, they held the meeting. Imagine the surprise on the late person’s face when he saw everyone hard at work and also enjoying their favorite beverages. He got the hint. The attorney acknowledged the late-to-the-meeting person and suggested that he ask another meeting attendee to fill in later on what he missed. Now, that’s a creative way to motivate people to arrive on time!
Here are tips to handle the meeting smoothly:
Include everyone in the discussion. Use a stopwatch and allow everyone two minutes to express an opinion on the proposal being discussed. Follow up with one minute for questions and answers. Try a round robin so everyone contributes. Often, people who hesitate to speak in front of the group end up making excellent contributions. Or, ask quiet people ahead of time for a specific contribution.
Take accurate, detailed minutes. Sometimes decisions are made at meetings and no one remembers why a few short months later. Good notes are often a life-saver because they remind everyone what was decided and why. It also makes it easy for new hires and those just promoted to catch up on a specific topic quickly.
At the beginning of the meeting (or beforehand), appoint a person to take notes that will include the names of the people responsible, the specific action and due dates. I even highlight the person’s name so that he/she can easily transfer the action items to their task list. If the meeting is important – and long – consider recording it with audio or video to ensure that no important information is lost.
Another possibility now available is to use tools such as SubEthaEdit or EtherPad. These apps allow multiple people to edit and collaborate on the meeting notes simultaneously. Everyone will stay engaged in the meeting and no one needs to spend time writing up the meeting notes because they are completed by the time the meeting is over. This is a good idea as long as people do not lose focus on the discussion and become too distracted by the note-taking.
Stay on track. Stick to the agenda and follow the estimated time allocation for each item; that will make it easy to identify issues that are dragging on longer than necessary. Keep the meeting moving and use the agenda as a roadmap – it is particularly handy if the discussion veers off-course. If that happens, try and stop the tangent right away. Otherwise, before you know it, the meeting has been derailed and is moving in an unplanned direction. Assign a committee to iron out details, if necessary.
Use meetings to discuss, maybe even argue as long as it is done fairly. It is ideas that are being discussed. The point is not to personally attack other people in the meeting.
End on time (high marks for this). Conclude a 60 minute meeting in 50 minutes and watch everyone’s face light up. That will give people an extra 10 minutes to get somewhere else or prepare for something coming up. And, they will be more likely to attend other meetings if they know their time is valued. If the meeting goes over the allotted time, the take-away message is that their time is not important. Meetings often run longer than they need to says Steven Rogelberg who teaches industrial/organizational psychology at UNC. He attributes it to Parkinsons Law that tasks last as long as the time allotted. So, if the meeting is planned for an hour, then it will take an hour.
After the meeting: Distribute the minutes asap. The person responsible for the minutes should file them in a location (preferably electronic) where they are readily accessible. Keep track of the tasks in your planner or task list and follow up with the individuals who were assigned the tasks to make sure they are completed.
Running an effective meeting takes planning and organization but is definitely worth it. The meeting will go more smoothly and the outcome is likely to be better. Give these tips a try!