So, your meetings are costing you too much. You have maybe ten people in a meeting for a half hour. The meeting starts 6 minutes late. If you end on time, you will only have 80% of your expected meeting time — 20% is lost! Oh, perhaps you keep the meeting for the full thirty minutes anyway. You’ve maybe rescued the time for this meeting, but how many other meetings will you and your participants have right on the heals of this one, thus making those meetings start late? You’ve probably just compounded the damage.
The Host Has this one!
For any meeting, the host has control. Perhaps a key player is showing up late: that doesn’t mean that the host has lost control. It does mean that it is going to be difficult to fully rescue the lost time, but surely there is some preliminary information that you or your team members can convey during that time. The host decides if the meeting officially starts on time or not. It falls to no one else. And if you build a reputation of always starting meetings on time will then find it easier to start meetings on time, because the team members know that they will miss something if they don’t show up right at the beginning. If you build the opposite reputation, participants who are themselves squeezed for time won’t bother showing up for five minutes because there is no point. Why be the good person who shows up on schedule and them waits around for the host to get things going?
To start any meeting, there is usually some set-up. Virtual meetings may take thirty seconds to initiate, but you as the host must then start setting it up thirty seconds early if you want to be able to start on time. Better yet, start a couple of minutes early. Participants who join a bit early won’t be met with some music they’ve heard ten thousand times before that sounds like it is coming from the bottom of a mud puddle ( I always wonder how digital music can still degrade over the years, but it seems to be a regular occurrence with music on queue. Go figure.).
You may feel you are at the mercy of the participants. They are too busy to get off their last meeting on time and get to yours. It’s the nature of the workplace. Blame it on the culture. Or help fix the culture. The self-perpetuating cycle can be broken starting with you if you host any meetings!
Virtual meeting bridges often have an option to allow the meeting to start before the host arrives. Always set that option on in case you legitimately can’t be there early to open the bridge. Back-channels are vital: through some instant communication technique you want to be able to call off a meeting if you determine the meeting is not viable before the meeting is supposed to start. That technique could be instant messaging. Email in some environments is so active that it may as well be instant messaging, so it can be a decent alternative. But once the meeting time has arrived, further delay in communication only damages your reputation as a serious host. If you can’t do anything else, start the bridge and announce on the call that the meeting has to be rescheduled, and then attempt to find something to partially redeem the time, even if it is only to get a good time planned for the replacement meeting.
If you have key players who could kill the meeting by not showing up, try to lock them down beforehand. You may be able to rescue a meeting before it starts. If a key player is not willing to commit regularly, perhaps escalation is called for. Those people carry an extra responsibility. Don’t let them shirk it. If they cite a previous meeting that could go long, perhaps the host of that meeting deserves a call from you, asking (or demanding) that overrun be prevented or the key player(s) be released. You aren’t powerless here. But you may have to be aggressive.
And if you are getting push-back for being hard-nosed about your meetings, take these articles to your higher management or show them the math — they want to fix their budget, right? This is a cause worth pursuing, if management actually cares about efficiency. If they don’t — look out! Your company may not be around much longer.