The Executive Decree – “We will start meetings on time, and we will end meetings on time.”
At the beginning of my first meeting at a new client, I arrived early and picked my spot near the far corner of the conference room table (I prefer to sit near the corner of the table closest to the screen). The Executive Sponsor came in early and chatted with me for3-4minutes. I glanced at my watch a few times as various members of the client team tricked in a few minutes after the planned start time.
Once we had the team present, I started my introduction, but the VP stood up as I was about to begin and interrupted me. “Excuse me for one moment Brett … < dramatic pause >… I want to make one thing clear to everyone on this project: We will start meetings on time, and we will end meetings on time. We are all busy, and we need to respect one another’s time”. He sat back down, and after about 10 seconds of awkward silence (which felt like an hour), I started up again “Thank you all for coming today. The objective of this meeting is…”
To this day, the Executive Sponsor’s assertion on the importance of timely meetings sticks with me. He wasn’t mean, and he wasn’t trying to assert his authority, he was trying to make us better at an essential part of our jobs.
Why Is It So Important to Be on Time?
Reflecting on his statement, there are a few key reasons why both starting meetings and ending meetings on time is so important.
- Reinforce a sense of urgency – When you force people to start and stop meetings on time, they will waste less time with non-important topics. A sense of urgency to a mission is what helps projects finish on time. A sense of urgency permits people to cut scope to achieve completion instead of spending forever trying to achieve perfection while the world passes them by. A sense of urgency is not the same as running helter-skelter, burning the candle at both ends, or performing a death march.
- Respect of your fellow teammates – Your time is valuable, so is the time of your team-mates. Starting and stopping meetings on time with the intention of respecting everyone’s time and efforts show respect for everyone’s time. People who show up late for Job interviews rarely get the job because it is perceived that they didn’t value the importance of the position enough to plan and show up on time.
- Recognition of future activities – We all have activities planned during the day. When a meeting runs long, it cuts into the time that we had intended to allocate to those future activities. Additionally, a lot of us have back to back meetings; If a meeting runs long, it will cause the next meeting to start late. Stopping meetings on time forces us to recognize that we all have future activities that are important to everyone.
- Constraints make us focus – There is a theory called Parkinson’s law that states “work will expand to fill the time available for its completion.” This theory applies to meetings. Whether you allocate 30 minutes to make a decision, or you allocate 60 minutes to make the same decision, it is very likely that the final decision will be the same. If a group of people knows that they are not constrained to finish the meeting on time, they will typically let the meeting drag out only to eventually arrive at the same conclusion. If people know that a meeting will end on time, they are more likely to focus and get the decision made.
Don’t Be Afraid to Be the Change
If the culture of your organization is one of meetings that start late and run long, don’t be afraid to step up and act as the meeting czar. People may joke about it at first, but at the end of the day, they will respect you for making everyone in the organization more effective.
In-effective meetings can suck up all of our days and make us much less effective in our contributions to our organizations. It is up to you to be the change that makes meetings run better and improve the quality of everyone’s lives. Now, go out into the world and be the catalyst for better meetings.