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How to start meetings on time

How should you start a meeting?

Some say it’s not how you start, but how you finish. As someone who has built a career helping leaders to run meetings that are enjoyable and a valuable use of time (sounds improbable, doesn’t it!), I believe how you start a meeting is critical — whether with colleagues, clients, volunteers, your local government or even your family.

And I always start meetings the same way. With “check-ins.”

At the beginning of every meeting, I invite each person to briefly answer the same question or set of questions.

My check-in question can be as simple as: How are you feeling? Or: What is going on for you that people in the room might need to know?

Sometimes, depending on my sense of the room, I’ll get more specific, by asking: What question do you think is most critical that we discuss in today’s meeting? Or: What are you excited about and what are you worried about? One of my favorite questions for leadership teams that meet on a weekly basis is: “What is a high, and a low, from your week? Where do you need help?”

Check-ins encourage everyone in the room to focus on the meeting and each other. This may seem like a given, but unfortunately, in our distraction-filled world, it is not. During check-ins, you’re not looking at your email or phone. You’re not interrupting each other.

The check-ins pull people in. Every single person speaks and everyone listens to every person speaking. (In other words, you don’t comment on each other’s check-ins.) And if you want to input from introverts during meetings, check-ins help them to get over the hump of speaking up. And because everyone talks at the beginning, check-ins make it clear that this meeting is for everyone, and not just the boss.

In check-ins, we all quickly learn where the other people in the room are coming from and what is going on with them on that particular day. Research shows that when you understand where people are coming from, you start to build relationships and trust. So when the inevitable bumps and miscommunications arise in our work environments, we are less likely to jump to negative conclusions about our colleagues, fight (or flee), or complain about a seemingly errant colleague.

Instead, we are more likely to walk down the hall or pick up the phone to talk with that colleague directly. When we develop relationships, we act from an assumption that our colleagues are trustworthy and we can work things out. So problems get resolved more rapidly, and organizations are able to adapt more quickly.

Some people think that check-ins slow you down. They don’t. Check-ins allow everyone to get a sense of the whole room much more quickly than is possible with one-on-one conversation. And they can draw out information that is essential to conducting a good meeting. I encourage people to mention if they are feeling tired, sick or overwhelmed during check-ins.

Of course, there is sometimes resistance to doing check-ins: they can seem too structured or touchy-feely for some cultures. While check-ins may feel awkward at first, the benefits of them make it worth your while to push through the resistance.

Sometimes people learn the hard way the need to be open in check-ins. On the second day of a recent two-day-long leadership team meeting that I facilitated, an executive—a private person who doesn’t like being vulnerable—chose not to say in the check-in that he had been up since 3 a.m. with a toothache. So his clenched jaw, contorted facial muscles, and sharp speech were interpreted by many of his peers as, “He’s not happy with where this conversation is going. He’s angry.” Had he mentioned in the check-in that he was exhausted and in pain, his peers and boss would have understood the cause of his behavior.

I’m unsure of where the check-in originated, but I know it is a longstanding technique in focus groups. I first learned about check-ins at my first organizational development job at a Massachusetts consulting firm. The company had a meditation room, and we opened our weekly business development meeting with a minute of silence followed by a check-in. I’ve been using check-ins as a tool to run productive meetings ever since. From small NGOs and start-ups to Fortune 100 leadership teams and the United Nations, I start every meeting the same way: with a question. I even use them at home in an effort to get my pre-teen son to open up at the dinner table about his day at school. (This may be the most valuable place to use them!)

Today, inside my own consultancy Groupaya, we do check-ins all the time — when we meet in my kitchen in San Francisco, and online every Monday. We also do them in our weekly conference calls with clients — even with eight people on the phone and just an hour for the meeting.

I don’t limit myself to check-ins. With all my clients, I also do check-outs — a question or questions posed to everyone at the end of meetings. The technique works for all the reasons that check-in’s do — and a few others. People often bring up a point or question that’s been missed in the discussion. People naturally end up talking about next steps, about what’s unanswered by the discussion, and about the meeting’s most important moments.

Most of my former clients continue to do check-ins and check-outs. Even those who were initially skeptical end up seeing them as a tool for discovering what is really going on in their company or organization.

I do acknowledge some limits on where check-outs are useful: I don’t do them at the dinner table. That would be a little much. I can just see my pre-teen son’s eyes rolling at the thought.

Kristin Cobble leads Groupaya, a consultancy based in San Francisco. She wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

How to start meetings on time

One of life’s greatest annoyances for me is the time spent waiting for a meeting to begin. The Berkun blog gives some great advice about how to get meetings off on a good foot by starting on time. What tips can you share with the group about how you get your meetings started on time?

If you called the meeting, do your %*[email protected]?! job. Everyone claims they know about facilitation, but few do it. If you called the meeting, it’s your job to 1) get there on time 2) write a bullet list agenda on the wall 3) Manage the conversation so no one hogs the floor and the right people get a voice at the right time 4) make sure side issues get delegated out of the room. If you don’t do all 4, any meeting problems are your fault.

Meetings start when royalty arrives. Watch the behavior of the senior person on a team. Most meetings won’t start until they arrive and people know it. If the VP is never late, no one else will be either. If the VP is always 10 minutes behind, everyone else will follow. If you’re a team manager, and meetings always start late, know (and blame) thyself. If you need a VP/VIP know where they’ll be before your meeting and escort them yourself.

Someone must enforce the clock. Every meeting should start with someone assigned to watch the clock. I don’t know that you need a giant clock like Google is claimed to use, but it’s someones job to say “We’re 20 minutes in”, “we have 15 minutes left”, “we have 5 minutes, so lets wrap up”. You’d be amazed how many meetings ramble for half the allotted time on topics not central to the reason for the meeting. Three breakpoints are all you need to remind everyone to stay on track.

Plan to end 5 minutes early. It’s insane but in all our infinite wisdom we continually plan meetings back to back with zero alloted time to get from meeting A to meeting B. Whose idea was this? If you always go to the last second, or go over, guess what you’re doing? You’re screwing over the next batch of meetings people need to get to. You’ll make unexpected friends by always ending early, which is easy if you watch the clock.

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    Two Simple Secrets to Starting Every Meeting on Time

    How to save time in meetings and be even more productive.

    How to start meetings on time

    I work with a COO of a commodities company–we’ll call her Felisa (I’m changing any identifying information to protect client confidentiality).

    Felisa spent most days in back-to-back, hour-long meetings starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m. Every day, by about the third meeting, Felisa was running late, breaking a common suggestion for making meetings useful.

    According to Atlassian, employees attend 62 meetings a month on average. This means you’re spending at least a third of your work week in meetings.

    In my experience coaching executives, most hour-long meetings start up to 15 minutes late. This delay costs attendees an average 45 minutes a day in lost productivity.

    Felisa and I realized the biggest reason her meetings started late was because either Felisa herself or several other attendees were coming from a previous meeting that ran behind.

    With back-to-back meetings, Felisa and others with similar schedules couldn’t be on time for a second or third meeting if the previous meeting ran the full time. This meant starting late and ending late, creating a domino effect of wasted time.

    Worse still, each hour-long meeting really had only about 45 minutes of usable time, which was enough. Felisa and I developed an easy, two-step strategy to save time in meetings. Try it, and see how shorter meetings times can result in more productive meetings:

    1. Meet for 45 minutes instead of an hour. Since the actual work of most hour-long meetings can be completed in 45 minutes, use the extra 15 minutes to transition from one meeting to the next and start each meeting on time.
    2. Start meetings at quarter past the hour. A meeting that starts at 2:15, for example, gives attendees coming from a meeting that ended at 2:00 time to arrive on time. When others apply this strategy, you’ll defeat the domino effect.

    After Felisa ran 45-minute meetings that started at quarter past the hour for two months, several of her peers adopted this practice as standard meeting protocol. They used the time saved to work on larger projects, making substantive progress and delivering results sooner.

    Use your extra 45 minutes a day–almost four extra hours a week on average–to create a vision, spend time on tasks that will most impact your goals, or catch up on your to-do list during the work week instead of sacrificing evenings and weekends.

    Shaving unproductive time from meetings puts a valuable resource back where it belongs – under your control.

    How to start meetings on time

    Make a good first impression.

    Make a good first impression.

    We all know there’s a price to pay for a making bad first impression: A limp handshake conveys low confidence; a wrinkled suit makes you seem lazy; oversharing comes across as emotional instability. But do you ever think about the first impression your meetings make? Frequently restarting meetings for stragglers sends the message that participants have more control than you do. Issues opened for discussion with no clear purpose get hijacked by participants with a clearer agenda than yours. Monologues validate everyone’s fears that your meeting is going to be about as valuable (and as scintillating) as watching an hour of C-SPAN.

    If you want to have a more productive meeting, focus on a strong opening. A good start to a meeting is like an overture: It sets the tone, introduces the major themes, and provides a preview of what you can expect. Here are some best practices for starting your next meeting:

    Make the purpose of the meeting clear. It’s amazing how much time gets invested in meetings where no one really knows why the meeting is happening. Remember to state the purpose of the meeting in the agenda and then reiterate it at the start of the meeting. Differentiate between idea generation sessions and decision-making forums; separate meetings driving long-term strategic thinking from those driving short-term action and accountability. (For more on how to create fit-for-purpose meetings, see “A Step-by-Step Guide to Structuring Better Meetings.”) While you’re at it, talk about what the meeting is not about. “This is our monthly capacity-building session. We’re working on the business today, not working in it. Any tactical issues need to be tabled until Wednesday’s ops review.”

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    Be specific about the purpose of each agenda item. Although the types of agenda items in any one meeting should be similar, they might be at different stages and therefore require a very different conversation. Before each agenda item, take a moment to clarify the goal. If your goal is idea generation, say so, and facilitate the discussion appropriately. Don’t allow action-oriented team members to converge too quickly if you’re trying to foster original thinking. In contrast, if an item requires a decision, be clear on the decision criteria and the process. Specify whether everyone gets to vote or whether one person owns the decision and is looking for recommendations. “Barb owns this decision, so I’m going to ask Barb to halt the discussion when she has what she needs to make the call.”

    Ask people to filter their contributions. Another way to set the tone at the start of a meeting is to tell people what level of engagement you expect from each of them. You can cite the MIT research that found that a team’s collective intelligence is predicted by how equally team members participate. Ask participants to modulate their contributions (either up or down) so that they take up about as much airtime as everyone else. Ask that participants refrain from simply agreeing with one another. You can say: “I’m looking for different perspectives and new ways of thinking. I’m going to move on if we’re all in agreement.”

    Reiterate any important ground rules. If your team has spent time developing ground rules (which I highly recommend that you do), use the time at the beginning of the meeting to remind everyone about any that are still aspirational. Too many teams go to the effort of defining ground rules and then never speak of them again. Don’t overdo it, but pick one ground rule that you think will be particularly salient for your discussion. For example, say, “I know we’re talking about some sensitive issues today. Just a reminder that we’ve all committed to starting with a positive assumption.”

    Head off passive-aggressive behavior. One reason that meetings are so abhorred is that they tend to go on and on, but don’t expose the real problems that need to be solved. Many teams use the meeting-before-the-meeting and the meeting-after-the-meeting to surface the prickly or unpopular issues. That makes the meeting itself a complete waste of time. Address the risk of passive-aggressive behavior explicitly by asking that issues be addressed in the meeting, not after it. It’s not a fail-safe approach, but calling out difficult or contentious discussions at the start of a meeting, and asking for people to share their points of view candidly, will increase the likelihood that you get the issues on the table rather than leaving them for hallway gossip later.

    Decide whether to roundtable. I would be remiss if I did not weigh in on the controversial topic of roundtables. By roundtable, I mean the portion of the meeting where each participant shares a status update. Roundtables are notoriously bad for sucking up time, adding little value, and providing a platform for nervous team members to justify their paycheck. If that’s what’s happening at your roundtable, get rid of it. If, in contrast, you’re willing to redirect your roundtable to selectively address issues related to the agenda topic, then have at it. Just be strict on the time limits and stop anyone who goes off topic: “It’s our quarterly strategic meeting, so the topic of the roundtable today is the one trend that is either exciting or frightening you.”

    It’s likely true that you attend too many meetings. It’s even more likely that you attend too many bad meetings. You can usually tell within the first two minutes whether the meeting is going to be a good use of your time. If you’re running the show, make sure your meeting makes a great first impression by focusing everyone on the unique value they’re supposed to be adding, emphasizing diversity of thought, and filtering out time-sucks. Do that and you’ll find that your meetings earn a sterling reputation and actually help get work done.

    So, you’ve got an important group engagement, and instead of it starting on time and on a promising note, has this ever happened to you?

    It’s 9:12. The meeting should have started 12 minutes ago. As the project manager, you purposely had this monthly senior executive update scheduled for 9:00 – not too early so that you could avoid hearing the “bad traffic” excuse and not too late so that you could avoid “the last meeting ran over” excuse.

    Yet, true to form, only a third of your audience is present – the ones who typically arrive on time. And, the key person, the executive sponsor for the project, has yet to arrive. She’s the one who will give the final sign-off on the status, and you don’t want to start without her.

    The room is quiet, save a few whispers at the table, and you are feeling embarrassed that you are wasting the time of those who had the courtesy to show up at the time requested. As the clock ticks off another minute, three more people show up, and you are wondering if next time you should tell those that are typically late that the meeting will start at 8:45.

    Mercifully, at 9:19, the executive sponsor appears. You put on your “game face,” greet her and get the meeting started. Fortunately, you had expected the meeting to start ten minutes late, so you don’t have to hurry through too much of the material. But, the meeting runs over, so you rush the close, and at 10:08, the meeting abruptly ends because the executive has to run off to her 10:00 meeting in the next building.

    Have you been there? Have you done that? Do you have the T-shirt? Getting a meeting started on time is a common challenge. It is especially difficult when you are the project manager or an outside consultant working with an organization.

    Unfortunately, most meeting leaders “punish the punctual” by making those who arrive on time wait for those who are late. In some organizations, punishing the punctual is such a cultural norm that participants have learned to arrive late to avoid “being punished.”

    Strategies for Starting On Time

    Of course, it is difficult to start a meeting when key participants are tardy. Consider these six strategies from The Effective Facilitator to develop a culture and a habit of better meeting practices, including starting on time.

    1. Get permission in advance from all participants to start the meeting at the appointed time, regardless of who is present. Explain that sometimes arriving late is unavoidable but that it is always important to respect people where possible.
    2. Make sure the meeting notice gives a gathering time AND a start time. Most people pay attention to the first time they see.
    3. Consider setting the start time for meetings for five minutes after the hour or half-hour to allow time for people to leave one meeting and arrive at the next one. For the project manager’s meeting above, the meeting notice might say: “8:50 Gather,9:05 Start”
    4. If someone else other than you will kick off the meeting, make sure that person is aware of this role and that the two of you have agreed upon the time.
    5. Give a two-minute warning prior to the start to encourage people to take their seats.
    6. Consider gaining group agreement on a suitable penalty for arriving late such as a dollar donation to the “party pool” or responsibility for creating the meeting notes. On one project team in which I participated, the lateness penalty escalated by a factor of two with each incident :
    • – The first time anyone was late for a meeting, the penalty was $1.
    • – The next person who was late for any meeting, the penalty increased to $2.
    • – The following person to be late received a penalty of $4, and it could have been their first time being late. The next person – $8, and so on.
    • After someone paid $32, not a single person was late for a meeting for the rest of the project. For this team, $64 was the threshold for behavioral change!

    Learn more facilitation strategies like these (plus hands-on practice) in our course, The Effective Facilitator. This four-day course provides a structured approach for leading groups and improving organizational effectiveness with over 100 team facilitation techniques.

    Overview

    If you are the meeting host and need to start or join a scheduled meeting, there are several ways that you can join the meeting. As the host, you can start the meeting from the Zoom desktop client for Mac, PC or Linux, the Zoom app for Android or iOS, your web browser, or an H.323 or SIP device.

    You can start a meeting by phone as the host using your host key. Learn more about starting a meeting by dial-in.

    Note: If you are invited to another Zoom user’s meeting, learn how to join the meeting.

    Prerequisites

    • Zoom Account
    • Meeting Scheduled – learn more about scheduling a meeting

    Windows | Mac

    1. In the Zoom client, click Meetings.
    2. Under the Upcoming tab, select the meeting you want to start; additional options will appear.
      How to start meetings on time
    3. Click Start.

    Linux

    1. In the Zoom client, click Meetings.
    2. Under Upcoming, hover over the meeting you want to start. Additional options will appear.
      How to start meetings on time
    3. Click Start.

    Android | iOS

    1. In the Zoom mobile app, click Meetings.
    2. Click Start next to the meeting you want to start.

    Web browser

    1. Login to My Meetings.
    2. Under Upcoming Meetings, click Start next to the meeting you want to start.
    3. The Zoom client should launch automatically to start the meeting.

    Email or calendar

    1. Confirm that you are logged in at zoom.us/profile in the same browser.
    2. Start the meeting by clicking on the URL Link in your e-mail or calendar invitation.
    3. The Zoom client should launch automatically and start the meeting.

    H.323/SIP

    To start a meeting as the host from an H.323 or SIP device, you will need to include the host key in the dial string. You can find your host key at zoom.us/profile. Learn more about host key.
    How to start meetings on time

    H.323
    Call out from the device using one of the following dial strings:

    Meetings without a passcode:

    [IP Address]##[Meeting ID]###[Host Key]
    Example: 192.168.1.25##123456789###123456

    Meetings with a passcode:

    [IP Address]##[Meeting ID]#[Passcode]#[Layout]#[Host Key]
    Example: 192.168.1.25##123456789#12345#11#123456

    SIP
    Call out from the device using one of the following dial strings:

    Meetings without a passcode:

    [Meeting ID]. [Host Key]@[IP Address]
    Example: 123456789. [email protected]

    Meetings with a passcode:

    [Meeting ID].[Passcode]..[Host Key]@[IP Address]
    Example: [email protected]

    Note: There are additional options for dial strings, including the ability to join with a specific video layout. Learn more about H.323/SIP dial strings.

    By Steve Kaye | Submitted On July 11, 2006

    How to start meetings on time

    1) Make it part of the agenda.

    Put the arrival time on the agenda. For example, for a meeting scheduled to start at 9:00 AM, you could put “8:50 AM – – – Arrive at the Meeting” at the top of the agenda.

    An arrival time is useful because it allows everyone time to socialize, obtain coffee, or organize materials before the meeting. It also ensures everyone is present at the scheduled starting time.

    2) Offer a treat.

    Provide coffee, juice, or a vegetable platter before the meeting. This can be especially welcome for all-day meetings attended by people from other locations. It provides a time for socializing between visitors and it may also provide a meal for those who came from out of town.

    But here’s the catch: offer the treat only during the arrival time. Then put it away once the meeting starts.

    And another point: serve snacks that make people more productive (such as fruit) instead of stuff that fills them up and deadens their brains (such as donuts).

    3) Set an example.

    Arrive at your meetings before they are scheduled to start. You can use the time to make sure that the room is set up properly. And you can greet the attendees as they arrive. This helps you appear in control of the meeting process from the beginning.

    And of course, arrive at everyone else’s meetings on time.

    Schedule your meetings to begin at odd times, such as 9:10 AM. This allows everyone who was in a one-hour meeting that began at 8:00 AM to travel to your meeting. Similarly, end your meetings at least ten minutes before the next hour so that the attendees have time to travel to their next meeting.

    5) Sell promptness.

    Send a memo or E-mail stressing the importance of arriving on time. Call key attendees to remind them about the starting time for the meeting. Give people a reason to be on time, such as ask a top executive to make an opening remark.

    Bonus idea: let the executive leave after making the opening remark. These people are very busy.

    6) Expect promptness.

    If it is your company (or department, etc.), you can tell people that they are expected to be on time. Then enforce this by making it a performance dimension. Similarly, arrive on time to demonstrate your commitment. And when necessary, hold a private coaching session with those who need help understanding your expectations.

    Realize that some people are beyond coaching because of their attitude or relationship with you. Also, recognize that it is impossible to guarantee that everyone will always arrive on time at every meeting. There will always be emergencies, surprises, and those few who refuse to cooperate.

    Bonus point: Ask that people tell you if they expect to be late. If necessary, reschedule the meeting to accommodate them.

    How to start meetings on time

    A good friend of mine once said, “Time is the most valuable commodity in life because it is the one thing you cannot buy more of.” Too bad this adage doesn’t hold true at all businesses.

    When you think about your workweek it might be astonishing, frustrating and a tad depressing to calculate how much time you spend in bad meetings.

    Throughout my career, most recently at Porch.com, I have tried to pay attention to what makes great meetings great. It is a bit of an art, but it is something anyone can master. Here are some tips for people that need a little help.

    1. Set and send the agenda in advance.

    It’s hard to get anywhere in life without a sense of direction and meetings are no different. Before you start, give people a heads up of what is going to be covered. People benefit greatly by having a sense for where they are going. What type of meeting do you want to have? Do you need people ready and willing to participate in a great discussion? Are you reviewing your scorecard? If so, are you going to look at the red metrics? Are the people responsible for this discussion aware?

    By sending the agenda 24 hours in advance you give people a chance to prepare and make most of the time.

    2. Start your meetings on time.

    This is a huge pet peeve of mine. If you don’t start your meetings on time, chances are you won’t end on time. Then the next meeting starts late. Before you know it, the entire day is off schedule. This strict time rule needs to happen at the highest levels of the company. If you can start on time with the first meeting of the day (and respect the end time) you set a culture where the importance of people’s time is highly valued.

    3. Make sure the right people are in the right meetings.

    How many times have you sat in a meeting that was literally standing room only? Why are all these people in the room? It is important to have the right people in the right meetings for the right reasons. When you think about the value of time and the people in the room, meetings are a very expensive endeavor. Put some thought into the meeting roster and make sure everyone there has a clear role and purpose.

    4. Meetings should be the right length.

    I have always felt that great meeting should be as long or as short as it needs to be. If you are good about setting an agenda with clear outcomes you will know when a meeting needs to end. If you can get done in 28 minutes when you thought needed 60 minutes, fantastic.

    5. Give every meeting a ‘parking lot.’

    What do you do when you are in a meeting and you go way off topic, but the discussion is a good one to have? Put the idea in the “parking lot” and make a commitment to revisit that idea at a later date.

    6. Don’t end a meeting without clear agreement on the next steps.

    Before you end your meetings make sure you recap any immediate actions and assign them to the appropriate owners. The worst thing that can happen is nobody follows up and then you have another meeting to talk about what you already discussed.

    How to start meetings on timeIt bugs me a little when meetings don’t start on time. I’m fairly punctual myself and while I have no problem waiting five minutes for a meeting to start, it pains me to see ten people waiting fifteen minutes for one or two other people who’re late. It’s particularly annoying when it’s the same people who’re late every time.

    Also, when some people are habitually late other participants start thinking “hey, meetings never start on time anyway, I’ll drop in ten minutes late.” It’s a downward slide from there :o)

    Here are three steps you can take to get your meetings started on time – including one slightly weird suggestion that works amazingly well.

    1: Agree what “The meeting starts at 3PM” means
    What does “We meet at 3” mean? Does it mean that people should get there five minutes early so the meeting is ready to start at 3? Does it mean that people arrive at 3 and the meeting starts whenever people are ready? Or does “We meet at 3PM” really mean 3:15?

    Different groups can have different standards but it’s a lot easier when everyone in the group has the same standard. Take five minutes out of a meeting to agree on this.

    2: Start the meeting on time
    It’s simple: Start the meeting at the appointed time according to your definition above, regardless of how many participants are still missing. Waiting for them only teaches them that it’s OK to be late.

    3: Make lateness visible
    This is a slightly strange suggestion that I’ve used to great effect: In the meeting room, place a glass or cup for each person labelled with their names. Then buy some red and green marbles and keep them in a jar next to the cups. Every person who arrives in time for a meeting places a green marble in his glass. Every person who arrives after the meeting starts places a red marble in his glass. This is not punishment it’s just a way of making the issue visible.

    How to start meetings on time

    After a month or so of meetings, you may find that some people’s glasses tend heavily towards red marbles, making it very visible who’s habitually late.

    This simple tool is remarkably effective at getting people to arrive on time, and sometimes no further action is required – the problem more or less goes away by itself.

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