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5 Tips to Start Your Meetings on Time

Facilitation, Starting meetings on time.
May 23, 2023 10:15 am

How often do your meetings start on time?

Sadly, in most organizations the answer is “not nearly often enough.” While the obvious costs are quite easy to calculate (salaries and other hard resources such as the room or conference line, etc.) the larger toll is often on morale and lost momentum. Here are our top five tips for helping you start your meetings on time.

Tip #1: Only Hold Meetings That Matter

Want people to show up on time (and prepared) for your meetings? Don’t waste their time once they’re at the table. If the work can be done more efficiently another way without sacrificing quality (e.g., 10-minute one-on-ones for status updates, instead of an hourly meeting of everyone’s time) then don’t hold a meeting. To hold a meeting that matters ask yourself some important questions before planning an in-office meeting, and try:

  • Aiming for fewer, higher impact meetings. People will thank you.
  • Sending everyone objectives and a ‘doable’ agenda before the meeting starts. This is often enough to answer, ‘what’s in it for me?’ which goes a long way in getting people to the meeting table on time.


Tip #2: Get the Boss in the Meeting Room

As Scott Berkun once noted, meetings usually start when royalty arrives. If your VP is routinely 10 minutes late, others will follow their lead. If you absolutely can’t start without them, walk them to the meeting. You don’t need to formally announce your intention, keeping it casual may be the better course: “I was at the printer getting copies of the agenda, and thought I’d get your take on X while we walk to the conference room…”

Tip #3: Actually Start on Time (all the time)

Start within two minutes of the stated meeting time. Confirm with those in attendance which topics can be discussed in the absence of late arrivals: Do you think we can tackle agenda item 3, ‘generating options for the benefits package’ before Cheryl arrives? We can share the possibilities and move on to a decision when she gets here. Once everyone’s arrived, acknowledge the amount of time left and have attendees decide which agenda items are a priority and can/should be completed in the remaining time.

If you get a reputation for starting on time, people will start arriving on time. If they don’t, it’s time to ask attendees whether something else is going on. Which leads us to the next tip…

Tip #4: Ask Attendees Why They’re Late

Go straight to the source and ask people what’s preventing punctuality. It can be difficult to address issues like this when dealing with different power dynamics in your meetings, for most organizations, an anonymous survey works best. Keep it short, focusing on elements you can control (not, for example, the size of the meeting room). Sample survey questions could include:

  • Do they see value in the meetings you hold?
  • Is there another way to accomplish our meeting outcomes that would be more efficient or effective? Document sharing, online polling or SLACK are just a few examples.
  • Is there a structural or other issue getting in the way of arriving on time?
  • What needs to change?

Tip #5: End 5-7 Minutes Early

Is your team or department saddled with back-to-back meetings? Schedule you’re meeting to end a bit early so everyone can make it to their next meeting on time. You may be amazed to discover that the same objectives can be reached in 50 or 55 minutes that formerly took an hour.

You’ll notice we don’t recommend any of the punishments or rewards that some organizations ascribe to. Penalizing individuals for late attendance that may be justified or beyond their control, or rewarding professionals for achieving a bare minimum expectation such as punctuality can send the wrong message. If these practices work inside your organization’s meeting culture – great, but we don’t endorse these tactics as a general rule.

Let us Know

Do you have a unique meeting challenge not covered by one of our blog posts? We’re always looking for different dilemmas to discuss in our articles!