For meetings, better never than late
Perhaps because of our relative isolation, or maybe because we were more willing to participate, the Sydney office of Bankers Trust (one of the first places I worked in investment banking), was often used as a testing ground for cultural experiments before rolling them out to New York.
As is the way with many formative experiences, these experiments stuck with me.
The one I found most effective and is something I’ve continued to apply to myself and my teams is the “start time rule”. A policy was put into effect that the conference room door would be closed five minutes after the commencement of a meeting, regardless of who may be missing from the table. At first, it was a bit of a mess: waiting for an elevator; grabbing a coffee between meetings; running into someone in the hall; meant a fair few folk missed meetings. But over time, the kerfuffle that happens in most offices as people rush from one meeting to the next died down. It became clear that you had to be on time, and if you weren’t, you missed out.
Soon, meetings started to end five minutes early so everyone could get to their next one in plenty of time. Then, the meetings became even shorter. Everyone showing up on time meant the agenda was only explained once, saving a few minutes of restating the purpose of the meeting to stragglers. Shorter meetings meant people rushed even less from place to place, so when it was time for the meeting to begin, everyone was already settled, pen in hand, ready to get to work. Over time meetings that used to last one hour became just 45 minutes. All those spare 15-minute chunks added up, and suddenly people had more time in their day to do other things.
“Five minutes early is on time. On time is late. Late is unacceptable.”
The reason Bankers Trust ran this experiment in the first place was to upend “banker time”, the tendency for bankers to be five to ten minutes late for everything. Whether it’s because they genuinely struggle to be on time due to workload, or because it’s some form of megalomaniacal banker trait is up for debate.
Like anyone who is kept waiting, clients don’t regard tardiness fondly. And I doubt this is news to anyone. Brent Beshore, an entrepreneur and investor broke down how tardiness is perceived, stating his own personal motto of, “Five minutes early is on time. On time is late. Late is unacceptable.”
If you ask any of my clients or my team, they’ll tell you I’m more likely to be five minutes early than just on time. At Pellucid, we’ve made it a rule to wrap up internal meetings five minutes early so those with hard stops have time to prepare for the next meeting, ensuring a seamless transition from topic to topic. The only excuse for a delayed meeting is if a previous meeting overruns due to a client still talking (usually this is a good thing but can be very hard to manage) requiring a quick email to let people know you’re running late.
Meetings have a bad rep for being a waste of time and pointless, but usually, it’s because they are allowed to be. My early experience at Bankers Trust showed me that by not accommodating latecomers, inefficiencies can be decreased across an entire team, leading to better and more productive meetings.
Any meeting hacks you’ve adopted? How late is too late? I’d love to know your thoughts. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.