In the army, to be early was literally drilled into us. It was a matter of life or death. If you were late for a meal, the doors would be closed and you would have to go hungry. If you arrived late to roll call, your whole group would be severely punished. You very quickly learned to be constantly five minutes early to stay out of trouble. And it was all very understandable as being late on the battleground could literally mean the difference between victory or defeat, even between life or death.
In business and life, it’s not that simple.
I’ve learnt, as participant, to arrive with enough of a time buffer to settle in and be ready for when the meeting begins. I still practice the five minutes rule today. I love that feeling of being relaxed and ready, and start the meeting that way. It also comes in handy in virtual meetings as you may have a technical challenge to overcome as you log on! The five minutes allow for that.
When I’ve arrived late, even if just a few minutes, it has been the exact opposite. There is no time to greet the others properly, if at all. You feel guilty because you put the chair under pressure, you may even be seen as disrespectful and disruptive to everyone there. And you start the meeting with a bit of a backlog. Not a joyful place. Not a good start.
What I had to learn here, when chairing the meeting, is to show grace to those who arrive late, but not let their lateness disrupt the proceedings. It is sometimes difficult to find that balance. The meeting needs to start on time. Those latecomers need to be encouraged and held accountable with grace. By being friendly but firm, by showing the best practice, very soon the routine will be established with the group and meetings will flow easier. Start on time, speak to the latecomers afterwards, is the best approach, I’ve learnt.
So, what do you need to do to help you show up on time, all the time?
Do you need to set a reminder for yourself 10 minutes before each meeting, to start and get ready?
Do you need to build a new habit?
Do you need to discuss what the real starting time of every meeting is, so that you all are on the same page?
With a client group I recently led the discussion to agree with their boss that their virtual meetings would start five minutes after the hour. That gives them time to finish their previous meeting—which they do not chair and therefore do not control—on the hour, have a quick bio break, log on three minutes after the hour and be on time to start the next one with her. This has helped them all be om the same page and all start the meeting from a place of joy.