How to start meetings on time (the honest answer)

Starting and stopping on time is easy. One person with power simply has to decide to care, the rest follows.

Having recently survived a tragicomic 8 way international conference call, an experience worthy of the 4th level of hell, I’m here to offer 5 honest tips that would have saved the day:

    • If you called the meeting, do your %*?@?! job. Everyone claims they know about facilitation, but few do it. If you called the meeting, it’s your job to 1) get there on time 2) write a bullet list agenda on the wall 3) Manage the conversation so no one hogs the floor and the right people get a voice at the right time 4) make sure side issues get delegated out of the room. If you don’t do all 4, any meeting problems are your fault.
    • Meetings start when royalty arrives. Watch the behavior of the senior person on a team. Most meetings won’t start until they arrive and people know it. If the VP is never late, no one else will be either. If the VP is always 10 minutes behind, everyone else will follow. If you’re a team manager, and meetings always start late, know (and blame) thyself. If you need a VP/VIP know where they’ll be before your meeting and escort them yourself.
    • Someone must enforce the clock. Every meeting should start with someone assigned to watch the clock. I don’t know that you need a giant clock like Google is claimed to use, but it’s someones job to say “We’re 20 minutes in”, “we have 15 minutes left”, “we have 5 minutes, so lets wrap up”. You’d be amazed how many meetings ramble for half the allotted time on topics not central to the reason for the meeting. Three breakpoints are all you need to remind everyone to stay on track.
    • Plan to end 5 minutes early. It’s insane but in all our infinite wisdom we continually plan meetings back to back with zero alloted time to get from meeting A to meeting B. Whose idea was this? If you always go to the last second, or go over, guess what you’re doing? You’re screwing over the next batch of meetings people need to get to. You’ll make unexpected friends by always ending early, which is easy if you watch the clock.
    • Only have meetings that matter . If you had a meeting called “Lets discuss how awesome you are and how we can triple your salary” people will arrive right on time – the concept of a meeting isn’t bad, it’s what you fill it with that matters. If everyone is always late they’re telling you: this meeting is not important. Either learn how to make the meeting worthy of their time or don’t have the meeting. Ask for opinions at perennially late or poorly attended meetings: why does this meeting suck? How can this be more useful? Is there a better way to |insert why you think you need a meeting here|?

    Also see, The 22 Minute Meeting.

31 Responses to “How to start meetings on time (the honest answer)”

  1. Scott (admin)

    One side note before people think I’m a meeting-fascist: it’s fine to ditch the agenda and follow a crazy idea or unexpected direction provided the person who called the meeting thinks it’s worth the time. It’s smart to catch this early and say: “This is interesting, but is it important enough to swap for one of these other agenda items?” If yes, great. If not, it’s pushed out of the meeting.

    Reply
  2. Grumbly

    Gotta call B.S. on your second point. If a VP is always late, you should still start on time. VPs need to learn that their sh*t stinks just like everyone else’s.

    A real meeting guru won’t sit around and wait for a VP — unless it’s a one-on-one.

    Reply
  3. Scott (admin)

    Grumbly: Good point. But I think it’s a judgment call.

    If the arrival of the VP 10 minutes in will demand a reset (e.g. the purpose of the meeting is to hear the VPs opinion on a plan) then there’s little sense in starting without him/her.

    But as you suggest, if the VP was invited but isn’t essential, then yes, go right on ahead (But someone has to deal with the VP if he asks questions about things he missed because he was late).

    Reply
  4. Doug Karr

    The end is just as important as the beginning. Everyone should have a ‘Who, What & When’ action plan going out of a meeting. If there’s not an action plan, there was probably little need for a meeting.

    Reply
  5. Julie

    Any tips for shutting up that one person who keeps rambling? We’ve got two in my office, and since they’re both really nice, I think our facilitator doesn’t want to just cut him/her off in order to avoid hurt feelings. But geeze, the rest of us just want to get through the agenda.

    Reply
  6. Scott (admin)

    Julie: It’s the facilitators JOB to cut them off. Who cares if they’re nice? How nice can they be if they’re wasting everyone’s time?

    One way out is this: At the beginning of the meeting the facilitator says “hey – it’s my job to keep us on time. I reserve the right to interrupt you if I need to – it’s nothing personal, ok?” And now expectations are set that excessive rambling isn’t allowed, and if it happens, they’ve been warned.

    Reply
  7. Evilgreenie

    Always tell the VP the meeting starts 10 minutes earlier than the time you tell everyone else. Always make sure you arrive at the meeting 10 minutes early. If, by some miracle, the VP turns up on time, you can both sit down and have a good bitch about how no-one ever turns up on time for meetings anymore..

    Reply
  8. Jace

    I start the meetings on the dot. If anyone (including VPs) hasn’t shown up on time, too bad.

    If you postpone the meeting for on the latecomers are straggling, well, it’s pretty rude to the people who did get there on time. Don’t expect them to fall over themselves to be on time next time, or even come at all. The lamest meetings I have ever been to are the ones where we’ve sat around for 15 minutes on the realization they weren’t coming. If you’re worried about dissing the VP by starting without him, he/she would probably not be impressed to find so many employees sitting in a room doing nothing.

    Reply
  9. Elaine

    “Always tell the VP the meeting starts 10 minutes earlier than the time you tell everyone else.” My grandma used to do this to one of my aunts (her daughter-in-law), who was chronically late. :)

    Reply
  10. Glenn

    Best meeting quote ever:

    “If they can’t start a meeting without you, well, that’s a meeting worth going to, isn’t it? And that’s the only kind of meeting you should ever concern yourselves with. ”

    It’s from a film called Swimming With Sharks and, in its own strange way, it says a lot about management.

    Reply
  11. Mandy Eagles

    Personally, I have trouble with the ramblers as I do hate to interrupt others. However, I hate the meeting “hi-jackers” who just want to add “one more thing” to the agenda. It’s always a balancing act… do you keep everyone longer to save calling another meeting later, or do you say “No” out of principal?

    Reply

Pingbacks

  1. Meeting management …

    So many of us have our days scheduled with meeting after meeting. Once a meeting starts late it probably will run late and the domino affect hits each subsequent meeting of the day. Or, you’re running from one meeting to the next without time to breat…

  2. […] Meeting that run late drive me absolutely CRAZY! Part of the problem often lies in the fact that meetings rarely, if ever, start on time. This blogger has come up with some real ways to get meetings started on time. My personal favorite: Only have meetings that matter . If you had a meeting called “Lets discuss how awesome you are and how we can triple your salary” people will arrive right on time – the concept of a meeting isn’t bad, it’s what you fill it with that matters. If everyone is always late they’re telling you: this meeting is not important. Either learn how to make the meeting worthy of their time or don’t have the meeting. Ask for opinions at perennially late or poorly attended meetings: why does this meeting suck? How can this be more useful? Is there a better way to |insert why you think you need a meeting here|? […]

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