One of my favourite project management bloggers, Derek Huether, wrote a piece last week about dealing with people who are consistently late for meetings. This is one of my personal major peeves and it has the same effect on me as if I were exposed to gamma radiation in a freak laboratory accident. I can’t tell you how many shirts and shoes I’ve gone through over the years as a result.
I already commented there, but I felt the need to go into more detail, as this is a point that just makes me crazy. A few years ago, I was running a project that periodically required town hall meetings for efficiency. There was too much to do and too short a time to do it. But it meant that more than a handful of people needed to show up.
I remember one person in particular, who was likely busier than anyone else on the team. She was the project administrator and how she managed to keep everything in order was a miracle in itself. She was never late for a meeting. When we held these large meetings, this lady had to come in from an office across town, and usually had to get back immediately after the meeting ended so that she could either go to her next meeting, or get back to work.
When I saw her consistently show up on time, I knew well the sacrifices she had to make to her day to be there.
When I saw other people consistently trickle in as and when was convenient for them, laughing and joking with one another, disrupting any discussions that were already started, I saw red. On one occasion in particular, I waited until everyone was seated comfortably, and then lit into the whole room. I didn’t single anyone out: neither the people who were on time, nor the people who were late. But boy did I smash the table with my fist. I deliberately wasted even more time by going on a five minute rant about punctuality (or lack thereof), and the message it sends. By the time I was done, everyone in the room knew how I felt.
When someone is consistently late for meetings, they send the message, “whatever I had that made me late was more important than any sacrifices you people made who were on time.”
It’s incredibly rude.
The following, from my perspective, are not acceptable reasons to routinely show up late for meetings, without letting the meeting chair know ahead of time:
- “I have back-to-back meetings all the time”
- “I only just saw the meeting in my calendar”
- “I had to finish some work before I came”
- “I had to drop my kids off at daycare”
- “I had to wash my hair”
Some of you will become enraged at my lack of sympathy for some of the items in the list. Don’t do it because then we’ll have two Hulks running around, and that’ll just make a mess.
My concern here is “consistently” (note I’ve bolded that word repeatedly above). Sometimes things happen that can’t be avoided, and I understand that. But look, if someone’s got to drop the kids off at daycare every morning and that will make them late, they need to say something so the meeting can be moved to a better time. Few people are so heartless as not to understand that kids come first. But there’s a big difference between one-offs and repetitively rude behaviour.
Back to back meetings is another perennial favourite. I’m sorry. The person with the conflict can leave early from the previous meeting, and let both chairs know about the conflict. Even better, he or she can let both chairs know about the meetings when they appear in their calendar, and suggest the newer one be moved to a better time. People are generally pretty accommodating about their schedules…at least as much as they can be. But when people leave it until the time of the meeting, they hold those people who were on time hostage. It’s not fair.
Am I over reacting? What do you think?
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I'm Geoff Crane. After 22 years in the trenches of a lot of tough projects, I decided to change direction a little bit and focus on sparking ideas in the vibrant field of project management.
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