Your Meetings Will Never Start On Time!

July 1, 2020
By Eileen Habelow, Ph.D.

Your meetings will NEVER start on time.

I am sorry to be the one to finally declare this out loud.  It is such a pain-point for companies, teams, and people all over.  Your calendar looks beautiful.  You have planned your priorities.  If you are an advanced planner, you may have even BLOCKED time on your calendar; time that is designated for you to focus, think, and maybe even recharge.  A planned day is a beautiful thing.

And then you wake up.  You start your day with a 9:00 a.m. meeting that is scheduled to end at 10:00 a.m.  Unfortunately, the meeting ends 5 minutes late, so you get to your 10:00 a.m. meeting at 10:10 a.m. along with everyone else who has to trek through the building (or the campus) to get to the new meeting room.  And, so it continues, 5-10 minutes at time your planned calendar is shot.  Done.  Not even close to being on time.  Your blocked time is gone, you eat on the run, and you finish the day with all of your ‘work’ still needing to be completed.

It’s such a common pain-point for many of my clients.  In fact, it seems to be a systemic problem in the current work world.  Companies that honor the start time of meetings—and have the discipline required to build a CULTURE of effective meetings—are rare.

There are three things that are critical to getting this part of meetings ‘right’.

  • It must be part of the culture.
  • Leaders must take the lead.
  • The make or break is that meetings consistently END on-time.

It must be a part of the culture.

It is virtually impossible to be a lone ranger in this endeavor.  You can commit to starting the meetings you lead on time.  You can commit to making sure you are always on time to meetings.  You can beg, plead, cajole, or berate others who are not on time to your meetings.  But, depending on how big your company is and how many meetings you personally control, it is going to be a long, uphill battle.  You may find yourself starting meetings on time with “me, myself and I”.

Your company has to declare that meetings are valuable, and the first sign of respect is being on time.  Let’s be clear; showing up late is disrespectful to others.  It has to be a company, or at least, a department-wide commitment.  Some actions need to be taken at the company level for the standard to be set.

Leaders must take the lead.

Let’s say your company has declared the sanctity of meetings that start on time.  That is a great start. But, the very first time someone in a leadership position runs late to a meeting and the meeting does not start until he or she arrives, your efforts are doomed.  If the rules don’t apply to those in leadership, the power of the plan is diluted, and compliance will dwindle.  Leaders must take the lead.

The make or break is that meetings consistently END on-time.

I have come to the conclusion that starting a meeting on time is like trying to wake up earlier in the morning.  I can say (and I have said all my life) “I wish I was a morning-person who could wake up early and get my day started earlier”.  I could set my alarm 1 hour earlier tomorrow than I did today.  Guess what?  If I try to do that without addressing my habit of ‘maxing the night owl’, this will be an unsustainable change.  My body needs the sleep it needs.  In order for me to rise earlier, I am going to have to force myself to go to bed earlier.  That will increase my chances of success exponentially.

The same principle applies to meetings starting on time.  If you really want your meetings to start on time, to clearly respect the time and planning of all, then you absolutely must commit to meetings ENDING on time!  There really is no other way to make it feasible.

In fact, what is so darn magical about the one-hour meeting?  I know what’s magical about it – it looks nice and neat on our calendars!  There are lines that tell us the beginning and ending of an “on the hour” timeslot.  A 30-minute meeting looks even better, but sometimes you really need more than 30-minutes.

Instead of scheduling a full hour that starts at the top of the hour, why not 50-minutes?  Or even 45-minutes?  Allow those extra 10-15 minutes for a hallway conversation, a quick sidebar, or *gasp* even a bio break?!

Companies have tried lots of strategies to get meetings to start on-time.  Success has been limited.  Rather than continuing to focus on starting on-time, how about START with ENDING on time?!