Do Your Meetings Start on Time?

By Jack Rosenberger

A friend who works in a large New York advertising agency recently told me about a interdepartmental meeting at her company. It was a fairly high-level affair with 10 to 12 attendees, and everyone arrived for the meeting at the scheduled time—everyone except for Tom, the person who called the meeting. My friend, like everyone else, sat in the conference room for nearly four minutes, waiting for Tom to appear. Finally, after a brief group discussion about the possible reasons for Tom’s absence (which included a few remarks about his routine tardiness), my friend left the conference room and walked to Tom’s office, where she found him sitting at his desk, reading or watching something on his iPhone. When my friend told Tom that everyone was waiting in the conference room for him, Tom apologized, got up from his chair, and six minutes after the 11:00 meeting was supposed to start, finally entered the conference room.  

Time-squandering situations like this one occur every day in IT and other department meetings: the person in charge of a meeting isn’t prepared to start the meeting on time, sometimes for technology-related reasons, or simply arrives late. This routine absence of due preparation or abundance of habitual lateness, however, is a serious productivity issue as inefficient meetings waste one of every employee’s most valuable and limited resources: their time.

If you don’t think late meetings are a serious business issue, consider these findings from a new Bain report on executives and time management:

  • 15 percent of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings, a figure that has steadily increased since 2008
  • On average, senior executives spend more than two days a week in meetings with at least three employees
  • A meeting that starts five minutes late costs a company eight percent of that meeting, which Bain describes as “a loss that would be untenable in any other resource category”

The late-meeting problem, of course, has a simple solution: Every meeting should start on time.

Just as a train leaves a station at its scheduled time, every meeting should start at its scheduled time. The person who is in charge of the gathering is responsible for it to commence on time. No waiting for laggards, no dilly dallying with the room’s videoconferencing gear while everyone else waits for you. If the meeting is scheduled to start at 11:00, the host should do her or his necessary preparation ahead of time and start the meeting at 11:00.

When you start your meetings on time and develop a reputation inside your department and company for doing so, it says that you value your time and the time of others—and that you’re prompt, efficient and businesslike. After all, the CIO whose meetings begin promptly is perceived differently than the CIO who arrives late for their own meetings. Which CIO would you respect and trust more?

If you don’t work in the type of purpose-driven organization in which prompt and to-the-point meetings are the norm or you’ve been a little lackadaisical about beginning your meetings on time, it’s time to reboot and adjust everyone’s expectations about your meetings. One simple but direct approach: include a note in your meeting invitations that says something along the lines of “Please be prompt: This meeting will start (and end) on time.” Given that most people can be slow to change, you might need to reiterate your newfound “My meetings always start promptly” approach in varying ways until everyone who regularly attends them understands that the meetings commence at 11:00, not 11:06.

IT can play a direct role in reducing one chief cause for late or slow-starting meetings by addressing attendees’ all-too-frequent technical problems. It is common for group meetings to not begin on time because the host is having difficulty connecting a tablet or laptop to the meeting room’s videoconferencing system. Intel is tackling this problem with its current rollout of Pro Wi Di, a wireless display system that enables a one-click connection for PC users in its meeting rooms, according to Intel CIO Kim Stevenson, who recently visited the QuinStreet Enterprise office in New York. Without such a setup, Stephenson notes that “it can take five to 10 minutes for a meeting to get started.”

One final thought: Just as every meeting should start on time, every meeting should also end on time.

About the Author

Jack Rosenberger is the managing editor of CIO Insight. You can follow him on Twitter via @CIOInsight. To read his previous CIO Insight blog post, “What CIOs Can Learn From the Anaheim Ducks,” click here.

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