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Are you tired of meetings that don't start on time?

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 11-29-10

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If you were to calculate the actual time lost, meetings that don’t start on time is perhaps one of the single biggest generators of waste in organizations today. A meeting that starts 5 minutes late for 4 people waiting for 1 other person wastes 20 minutes. If it’s a daily meeting, that’s an hour a week, and in turn 50 hours a year. If that’s happening with meetings all over the organization, the waste really adds up.

This is a solvable problem. It takes more than one person to solve it for an organization, but you can at least start it for your team and start to build some momentum.

  1. Schedule meetings that can manage transition time from meeting to meeting. We always want to thing our meeting is the most important one. But somewhere in the halls of Microsoft as Outlook was being developed, the default for meetings became 60 minutes. Schedule your meetings for 50 minutes. It only takes a second to change it when setting up a meeting in Outlook. Build your agenda for those 50 minutes. Or better yet, manage your meeting to 42 minutes, or 18.
  2. Start on time. Yes, it’s that simple. I don’t care if your boss isn’t there. Start on time.
  3. Forget the games like the dollar in the bucket if you’re late. Have someone text message, call, or push-to-talk those who said they would be there but aren’t. Call them out on it. They made a commitment, and you are just calling them to see if they are intending to keep their commitment. But have someone else call, but you’re starting the meeting.
  4. Never double-book yourself. This is the example that you must set. It ensures that you won’t make the meeting, and sends the message “all plans are tentative until I make up my mind.” If there are standing meetings that you are automatically accepted into, at least decide that morning and make the decision of what you are going to attend and what you aren’t.

Mind you, this still won’t be enough. But it’s a start. Lean can begin with you.

Comments

  • Jamie — great tips here. I often refer to the 50 minute meeting as the “therapeutic hour.” Just like you only get 50 minutes with a psychiatrist but pay for an hour, meetings may be scheduled for an hour but they should end at 50 minutes.

    Dan Markovitz November 29, 2010 at 9:01 am
  • Jamie — great tips here. I often refer to the 50 minute meeting as the “therapeutic hour.” Just like you only get 50 minutes with a psychiatrist but pay for an hour, meetings may be scheduled for an hour but they should end at 50 minutes.

    Dan Markovitz November 29, 2010 at 9:01 am
  • Jamie — great tips here. I often refer to the 50 minute meeting as the “therapeutic hour.” Just like you only get 50 minutes with a psychiatrist but pay for an hour, meetings may be scheduled for an hour but they should end at 50 minutes.

    Dan Markovitz November 29, 2010 at 9:01 am
  • It’s takt time, isn’t it?

    I’ve made myself better at being on time by seeing lateness as a violation of the respect for people principle. If I do not respect you and your valuable use of time by being late, I’m not only treating you with disrespect, but disrupting flow. If I then come to the meeting and profess to know something about lean, I’m showing I just don’t get it.

    Starting the meeting on time without the presence of the latecomer is not disrespecting them. It’s designing work to show the abnormality.

    But we all make mistakes, and I agree that e-mails, texts, and phone calls are better than sitting and waiting.

    On the other hand, the socializing and side discussions that take place while waiting are sometimes helpful in solidifying relationships at the meeting. Should we schedule 3-5 minutes at the end for the emotional work that helps a team perform well?

    Karen

    Karen Wilhelm November 29, 2010 at 10:17 am
  • It’s takt time, isn’t it?

    I’ve made myself better at being on time by seeing lateness as a violation of the respect for people principle. If I do not respect you and your valuable use of time by being late, I’m not only treating you with disrespect, but disrupting flow. If I then come to the meeting and profess to know something about lean, I’m showing I just don’t get it.

    Starting the meeting on time without the presence of the latecomer is not disrespecting them. It’s designing work to show the abnormality.

    But we all make mistakes, and I agree that e-mails, texts, and phone calls are better than sitting and waiting.

    On the other hand, the socializing and side discussions that take place while waiting are sometimes helpful in solidifying relationships at the meeting. Should we schedule 3-5 minutes at the end for the emotional work that helps a team perform well?

    Karen

    Karen Wilhelm November 29, 2010 at 10:17 am
  • It’s takt time, isn’t it?

    I’ve made myself better at being on time by seeing lateness as a violation of the respect for people principle. If I do not respect you and your valuable use of time by being late, I’m not only treating you with disrespect, but disrupting flow. If I then come to the meeting and profess to know something about lean, I’m showing I just don’t get it.

    Starting the meeting on time without the presence of the latecomer is not disrespecting them. It’s designing work to show the abnormality.

    But we all make mistakes, and I agree that e-mails, texts, and phone calls are better than sitting and waiting.

    On the other hand, the socializing and side discussions that take place while waiting are sometimes helpful in solidifying relationships at the meeting. Should we schedule 3-5 minutes at the end for the emotional work that helps a team perform well?

    Karen

    Karen Wilhelm November 29, 2010 at 10:17 am
  • Jamie,

    This is great advice. Meetings seem to be getting more and more out of control in the corporate settings.

    Chris

    Chris Paulsen November 29, 2010 at 11:06 am
  • Jamie,

    This is great advice. Meetings seem to be getting more and more out of control in the corporate settings.

    Chris

    Chris Paulsen November 29, 2010 at 11:06 am
  • Jamie,

    This is great advice. Meetings seem to be getting more and more out of control in the corporate settings.

    Chris

    Chris Paulsen November 29, 2010 at 11:06 am
  • At one organization I worked at, the conference room doors were locked after 5 minutes. If you were late, you forfeited your right to decide or give input. Most of the conference rooms had windows so you could see the person try to open the locked door. While this may sound negative, it helped people be on time. Most people only are late once and quickly change their behavior.

    Brian Buck November 29, 2010 at 12:23 pm
  • At one organization I worked at, the conference room doors were locked after 5 minutes. If you were late, you forfeited your right to decide or give input. Most of the conference rooms had windows so you could see the person try to open the locked door. While this may sound negative, it helped people be on time. Most people only are late once and quickly change their behavior.

    Brian Buck November 29, 2010 at 12:23 pm
  • At one organization I worked at, the conference room doors were locked after 5 minutes. If you were late, you forfeited your right to decide or give input. Most of the conference rooms had windows so you could see the person try to open the locked door. While this may sound negative, it helped people be on time. Most people only are late once and quickly change their behavior.

    Brian Buck November 29, 2010 at 12:23 pm
  • GM Engineering had this problem in spades back in the early 1990s. Then Jim Queen, the VP of Engineering, directed that meetings END on time, in fact 10 minutes before the hour. This allowed time to get to the next meeting and a moderate amount of time for networking with others leaving the meeting.

    George Powell November 29, 2010 at 2:46 pm
  • GM Engineering had this problem in spades back in the early 1990s. Then Jim Queen, the VP of Engineering, directed that meetings END on time, in fact 10 minutes before the hour. This allowed time to get to the next meeting and a moderate amount of time for networking with others leaving the meeting.

    George Powell November 29, 2010 at 2:46 pm
  • GM Engineering had this problem in spades back in the early 1990s. Then Jim Queen, the VP of Engineering, directed that meetings END on time, in fact 10 minutes before the hour. This allowed time to get to the next meeting and a moderate amount of time for networking with others leaving the meeting.

    George Powell November 29, 2010 at 2:46 pm
  • Maybe step 0 should be: “Can we cancel this standing meeting altogether? Is the meeting really accomplishing anything? Is that better spent at the Gemba improving the process or coaching people?”

    Mark Graban November 29, 2010 at 4:44 pm
  • Maybe step 0 should be: “Can we cancel this standing meeting altogether? Is the meeting really accomplishing anything? Is that better spent at the Gemba improving the process or coaching people?”

    Mark Graban November 29, 2010 at 4:44 pm
  • Maybe step 0 should be: “Can we cancel this standing meeting altogether? Is the meeting really accomplishing anything? Is that better spent at the Gemba improving the process or coaching people?”

    Mark Graban November 29, 2010 at 4:44 pm
  • Every study I have ever read about meetings states that most people view them as a waste of time. If that’s the case, it’s not surprising that people arrive late.

    The single most effective tactic for improving standing meetings is to conduct them standing up. That’s a reason to want to start on time and get done as quickly as possible. When you’re standing, you really can’t do anything but pay attention, take part in the conversation and handwrite notes. It’s hard to type on a laptop while standing up. You can’t drink coffee and write notes, so you leave the coffee at your desk. Also, it feels tremendously awkward to work on your Blackberry during a standing-up meeting.

    Try standing up during a standing meeting. You’ll find almost everything runs more smoothly.

    Robby Slaughter November 29, 2010 at 4:54 pm
  • Every study I have ever read about meetings states that most people view them as a waste of time. If that’s the case, it’s not surprising that people arrive late.

    The single most effective tactic for improving standing meetings is to conduct them standing up. That’s a reason to want to start on time and get done as quickly as possible. When you’re standing, you really can’t do anything but pay attention, take part in the conversation and handwrite notes. It’s hard to type on a laptop while standing up. You can’t drink coffee and write notes, so you leave the coffee at your desk. Also, it feels tremendously awkward to work on your Blackberry during a standing-up meeting.

    Try standing up during a standing meeting. You’ll find almost everything runs more smoothly.

    Robby Slaughter November 29, 2010 at 4:54 pm
  • Every study I have ever read about meetings states that most people view them as a waste of time. If that’s the case, it’s not surprising that people arrive late.

    The single most effective tactic for improving standing meetings is to conduct them standing up. That’s a reason to want to start on time and get done as quickly as possible. When you’re standing, you really can’t do anything but pay attention, take part in the conversation and handwrite notes. It’s hard to type on a laptop while standing up. You can’t drink coffee and write notes, so you leave the coffee at your desk. Also, it feels tremendously awkward to work on your Blackberry during a standing-up meeting.

    Try standing up during a standing meeting. You’ll find almost everything runs more smoothly.

    Robby Slaughter November 29, 2010 at 4:54 pm
  • Thank you everyone for the great comments.

    Karen, I agree that socializing is important and I don’t think that needs to be scripted. But this is more of a reason to end early rather than start late. Although not empirical, my observations are the small talk waiting for the meeting to start is much more idle and less valuable than the conversations that can take place in the free space after the meeting.

    Mark, absolutely right. It’s really a different problem statement, but in many organizations there are plenty of meetings that can be canceled. My test, although it shouldn’t be the final judge is “are you going to take some new action based on this meeting?” If not, then what value did it really provide.

    Robby, also very true. I don’t find that helps with starting on time, at least in my experiences, but it does help the meetings be more effective. We’re much more focused on the topic. Also, we don’t have a table separating us from each other, which creates a disconnect.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh November 30, 2010 at 9:53 am
  • Thank you everyone for the great comments.

    Karen, I agree that socializing is important and I don’t think that needs to be scripted. But this is more of a reason to end early rather than start late. Although not empirical, my observations are the small talk waiting for the meeting to start is much more idle and less valuable than the conversations that can take place in the free space after the meeting.

    Mark, absolutely right. It’s really a different problem statement, but in many organizations there are plenty of meetings that can be canceled. My test, although it shouldn’t be the final judge is “are you going to take some new action based on this meeting?” If not, then what value did it really provide.

    Robby, also very true. I don’t find that helps with starting on time, at least in my experiences, but it does help the meetings be more effective. We’re much more focused on the topic. Also, we don’t have a table separating us from each other, which creates a disconnect.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh November 30, 2010 at 9:53 am
  • Thank you everyone for the great comments.

    Karen, I agree that socializing is important and I don’t think that needs to be scripted. But this is more of a reason to end early rather than start late. Although not empirical, my observations are the small talk waiting for the meeting to start is much more idle and less valuable than the conversations that can take place in the free space after the meeting.

    Mark, absolutely right. It’s really a different problem statement, but in many organizations there are plenty of meetings that can be canceled. My test, although it shouldn’t be the final judge is “are you going to take some new action based on this meeting?” If not, then what value did it really provide.

    Robby, also very true. I don’t find that helps with starting on time, at least in my experiences, but it does help the meetings be more effective. We’re much more focused on the topic. Also, we don’t have a table separating us from each other, which creates a disconnect.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh November 30, 2010 at 9:53 am
  • Some great comments that I’ll reinforce. Mark is exactly right – step 0 is determining if the meeting is really necessary. If not, or even if it’s questionable, kill it and find another way to make the presumably-required decision. Then try stand up – it’s amazing how meetings will be shorter and decisions quicker. Not appropriate for every circumstance, but I’d say 80%. Use non-standard meeting length. There was a study once that the eyes and mind are drawn to odd values, and most of us have seen that in some large employee parking lots where speed limits are “13 mph” and such – it grabs you and you think about it. How about a 27 minute long meeting? But I like Karen’s the best – being late truly is an indicator of respect for people, and starting on time will lower the water level to show that rock. When you put it in those terms I’ve found people start being on time, fast.

    Kevin November 30, 2010 at 10:51 am
  • Some great comments that I’ll reinforce. Mark is exactly right – step 0 is determining if the meeting is really necessary. If not, or even if it’s questionable, kill it and find another way to make the presumably-required decision. Then try stand up – it’s amazing how meetings will be shorter and decisions quicker. Not appropriate for every circumstance, but I’d say 80%. Use non-standard meeting length. There was a study once that the eyes and mind are drawn to odd values, and most of us have seen that in some large employee parking lots where speed limits are “13 mph” and such – it grabs you and you think about it. How about a 27 minute long meeting? But I like Karen’s the best – being late truly is an indicator of respect for people, and starting on time will lower the water level to show that rock. When you put it in those terms I’ve found people start being on time, fast.

    Kevin November 30, 2010 at 10:51 am
  • Some great comments that I’ll reinforce. Mark is exactly right – step 0 is determining if the meeting is really necessary. If not, or even if it’s questionable, kill it and find another way to make the presumably-required decision. Then try stand up – it’s amazing how meetings will be shorter and decisions quicker. Not appropriate for every circumstance, but I’d say 80%. Use non-standard meeting length. There was a study once that the eyes and mind are drawn to odd values, and most of us have seen that in some large employee parking lots where speed limits are “13 mph” and such – it grabs you and you think about it. How about a 27 minute long meeting? But I like Karen’s the best – being late truly is an indicator of respect for people, and starting on time will lower the water level to show that rock. When you put it in those terms I’ve found people start being on time, fast.

    Kevin November 30, 2010 at 10:51 am
  • Great article, great comments.

    I just want to add that starting the meeting on time doesn’t help if key people are missing. For example, you schedule a meeting to present options to a couple key people and get their opinions on the options. If one key person is late, you’re really just screwed. If you start without him, he misses information you wanted to convey to him and his opinion won’t be as informed as you want it to be.

    Amy Thorne November 30, 2010 at 11:23 am
  • Great article, great comments.

    I just want to add that starting the meeting on time doesn’t help if key people are missing. For example, you schedule a meeting to present options to a couple key people and get their opinions on the options. If one key person is late, you’re really just screwed. If you start without him, he misses information you wanted to convey to him and his opinion won’t be as informed as you want it to be.

    Amy Thorne November 30, 2010 at 11:23 am
  • Great article, great comments.

    I just want to add that starting the meeting on time doesn’t help if key people are missing. For example, you schedule a meeting to present options to a couple key people and get their opinions on the options. If one key person is late, you’re really just screwed. If you start without him, he misses information you wanted to convey to him and his opinion won’t be as informed as you want it to be.

    Amy Thorne November 30, 2010 at 11:23 am
  • I’ve found both stand up meetings and non-standard start times effective. Stand up meetings are always shorter and more focused. I found some resistance at first and people looking around for chairs to pull over but they got over it after a couple of meetings. Also, only provide a call in number to the attendees that are physically located off site (not in the meeting notice). Too much temptation for people to call in from their desk and multi-task on mute. Huge time waster for everyone.

    Mike Gallagher November 30, 2010 at 9:33 pm
  • I’ve found both stand up meetings and non-standard start times effective. Stand up meetings are always shorter and more focused. I found some resistance at first and people looking around for chairs to pull over but they got over it after a couple of meetings. Also, only provide a call in number to the attendees that are physically located off site (not in the meeting notice). Too much temptation for people to call in from their desk and multi-task on mute. Huge time waster for everyone.

    Mike Gallagher November 30, 2010 at 9:33 pm
  • I’ve found both stand up meetings and non-standard start times effective. Stand up meetings are always shorter and more focused. I found some resistance at first and people looking around for chairs to pull over but they got over it after a couple of meetings. Also, only provide a call in number to the attendees that are physically located off site (not in the meeting notice). Too much temptation for people to call in from their desk and multi-task on mute. Huge time waster for everyone.

    Mike Gallagher November 30, 2010 at 9:33 pm