Making meetings matter — ending chronic latecomers

Joe
Joe Sherren
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I appreciate getting feedback and questions from readers.  One issue that I am often asked about is the inefficiency of meetings.  As you know, a meeting consisting of a number of employees and managers will cost significant time and money, especially when you add up the salary of everyone involved, compounded with the decline in productivity and the loss of opportunity costs because people are not taking care of clients and potential prospects.

This does not include the cost of the meeting space, technology, travel, and perhaps refreshments.  So anything you can do to reduce the disruption to the routine and scheduled work flow will result in a significant cost savings.

One of the most common problems is just getting people to meetings on time. Often, meetings start late, people straggle in, and some are distracted with other activities.

So here are some (simple) techniques to tackle this annoying problem:

Start On Time. If the meeting is supposed to start at 9 am, start at 9 am! No matter who is missing even the ‘big banana’. If you don’t, you simply reinforce tardiness. In fact, if you allow the most senior person to be late, because they are dealing with “important” matters that will actually motivate people themselves to start arriving late. The subconscious thought becomes, if you arrive late–you must be important.

Be Odd. Schedule your session to start at an odd time e.g. 8:22 am. People will be more likely to remember an odd time and make an effort to be there.

Be Convenient. Schedule your session at a convenient time and place for the majority of the team members. There are great programs to use for efficient scheduling such as www.surveymonkey.com or www.gotomeet.com.  

Be Comfortable. An attractive meeting room with ergonomic chairs is much more enticing than hard chairs and no windows.

Have Food. People like to go places where there is free food. Even having coffee and snacks on hand can encourage attendance! But opt for healthy choices – not bread or sugar-laden foods!

Close the Door when the meeting begins. If they know they can’t “slip-in” late, they might just arrive on time!  One company I was working with actually put locks on conference room doors, and one minute after the official start time of the meeting, the door was locked. After that, nobody was allowed to enter.

Schedule Priority Items First. Schedule the important agenda items for the beginning of the meeting. Better yet, schedule the important items of interest to the chronic latecomer first — so it’s in the latecomer’s self-interest to be on time.

I prefer the carrot rather than the following suggestions which are more of a “stick” approach. But, you might find they will also work:

Shame Them. Publish the names of absentees and latecomers in the team minutes.

Sing.  One team I worked with had a ground rule where the last person to come to the meeting had to sing a song, which put a fun activity in the meeting.  Or, they had to take the meeting minutes or some other less than desirable task.

Penalty Charge.  I would be very careful about making them pay a penalty. I have seen it happen where the manager said that anyone who arrived late would need to pay a $10.00 fine that would be put into the group coffee fund. One gentleman stood up and said “fine, here is $30.00 because I will probably be late for a few meetings”.

One client I had in Amsterdam does not allow any chairs in any of their meeting rooms. Their philosophy is that no meeting should last more than an hour.  Additional time spent is just rehashing things already discussed, or socializing.  So for an hour nobody needs a chair.

My question for managers this week: What techniques are you doing to inspire attendance, engagement and efficiency at your meetings?

If you have questions regarding management practices or issues you may be dealing with, please write to the Guardian to have your comments or questions addressed.

Joseph Sherren, CSP, CSPGlobal, HoF, Canada’s Management Effectiveness Expert works with organizations and individuals helping them achieve their critical objectives.

Geographic location: Amsterdam, Canada

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