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Want to Instantly Become a Better Leader?

Science Says Meetings That Don't Start on Time Are a Third Less EffectivePlus, a research-based case for having fewer meetings, period.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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A co-worker and I decided to track how many of the meetings we attended actually started on time. Of nearly 700 meetings (we worked where a meeting-jammed schedule was a proxy for productivity), just three began on time. 

While usually the only person who feels a particular meeting is necessary is the person who called that meeting, pretend most of them actually were important. Becaue they started late, only three of them were as effective as they could have been. According to a 2018 study published in Journal of Organizational Behavior, meetings that start late aren't just a waste of time and a cause for irritation.

Meetings that start late also turn out to be much less productive.

As the researchers write:

We found significant differences concerning participants' perceived meeting satisfaction and meeting effectiveness, as well as objective group performance outcomes (number, quality, and feasibility of ideas produced in the meeting).

We also identified differences in negative socio-emotional group interaction behaviors depending on meeting lateness.

Let's quantify "significant." A meeting that started 10 minutes late was a third less effective in terms of both actual and perceived outcomes than a meeting that started on time. A third as many ideas were generated. The quality and usefulness of the ideas generated was nearly a third lower.

As for "negative socio-emotional group interaction" behaviors? Consider the average meeting. Some people get there early. Naturally, they start chatting. (Every meeting room, whether physical or virtual, abhors a vacuum.) More peope trickle in. When it's time to start, a few still haven't arrived. Even if everyone arrives on time, one or two people -- almost always the person or persons in charge -- keep chatting. Eventually one of them says, "All right, let's get started."

What happened in the meantime?  Negative socio-emotional group interaction. Starting late means some of the focus and enthusiasm -- if there was any -- has been lost. Drifting to a start is hard to overcome. Walk in, sit down, get started? That works. Walk in, settle in, chat for a while? Any enthusiasm people felt is really hard to recapture. 

And here's the kicker: Even if a meeting does start on time, when people feel meetings usually start late, that assumption still affects their performance and participation. 

Add it all up, and the research shows meetings that start late:

  • Result in more interruptions
  • Result in more whispered side conversations
  • Result in more off-topic interjections
  • Suck even worse than the average meeting

The solution is simple. Start your meetings on time. No excuses.

Arriving late is rude. Arriving late implies your time is more valuable than that of other people. And if you need a bottom-line reason, arriving late compromises the outcome of a meeting you felt was important enough to hold in the first place. 

Sum it all up, and arriving late is like saying, "This meeting is important, but, hey, it's not that important."

And if you think it's impossible to start every meeting on time, especially if you're often the one who is late? Stop holding so many meetings and you won't just avoid ineffective meetings.

You'll also get more done. A meta-analysis of over a decade of research shows 90 percent of employees feel meetings are "costly" and "unproductive," and that they're right: employee productivity increased by over 70 percent when the number of meetings was reduced by 40 percent. The researchers also found that employee autonomy increased. People didn't need meetings to keep them on-track and accountable; fewer meetings allowed them to "own their own to-do lists."

Which resulted in greater productivity and job satisfaction.

And, oddly enough, improved communication, cooperation, and engagement among employees. Since they couldn't "rely" on meetings, they talked to one another directly. Or checked project documents. Or reviewed old Slack messages.

The resulting communication was 57 percent more effective.

And what if the number of meetings was reduced by 80 percent? Stress dropped by over 60 percent. Feeling micromanaged dropped by almost 75 percent. Productivity went up 74 percent.

Start your meetings on time.

If you can't do that? Don't have meetings.

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