Time is of the essence: How to make meetings work

Meetings are a hugely significant aspect of our modern working lives, and are a key way of coordinating action, sharing information and building cohesion across a team.

Yet all of us have been in meetings that don’t fulfil this brief, producing little by way of results, dragging down motivation and generally taking up time that could have been better spent in other ways.

This study suggests that one of the key factors that influence whether or not a meeting will both feel and actually be productive is timekeeping. Waiting around for a meeting to start because someone hasn’t turned up on time drains people’s expectations for the meeting, and when it begins, it is likely to be less productive and satisfying for everyone.

After having waited for a late arrival, meeting attendees were found to become more impatient, interrupting each other more frequently. This is more than just an issue of manners and respect, as discipline around turn-taking in meeting has been shown to be an important prerequisite for good collaboration.

A late start also transmits the idea that the meeting isn’t a high priority, setting a negative tone that persists throughout the meeting. Groups kept waiting engaged in more complaints, criticism, and sidebar conversations.

Overall, groups that started meetings just a few minutes late were not only less satisfied by their meetings, they also generated fewer and less feasible ideas.

So, what can you do to improve meeting time keeping? Here are 5 practical tips:

  • When scheduling, set punctual start times and stress the importance of on-time arrival. Accountability improves punctuality.
  • Send clear agendas ahead so attendees come prepared and discussions can launch promptly.
  • Start on time, even if key attendees are missing. Quickly update latecomers so they are up to speed.
  • Shorten agendas or prioritize top topics if starting late to avoid time pressures. Summarize outcomes so all are aligned.
  • Praise those who arrive on time. Have offline discussions with frequent latecomers to problem solve.

Following these suggestions should help to make attendees more engaged, discussions more productive, and punctuality more valued.

Remember – timelier meetings are better meetings, and lateness has a cost.

Being punctual isn’t just a matter of good manners.