Business man running late

Running a Successful Meeting – Don’t Punish the Punctual

There’s a saying I like “don’t punish the punctual”. Besides being succinct, I find it a good prompt for running successful meetings.

Read on for why people are late and what you can do about it.

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Remember why we have meetings in the first place. It isn’t a talk for the sake of talking.

The purpose of meetings is to work through problems, clear roadblocks, decide a course of action, provide a forum for feedback, etc.

There must be action items and follow-through! As the one running the meeting, you must hold those accountable for what we all agreed needs to be done.

Why Are People Late For Meetings?

There’s always a reason – some acceptable and others suspect.

  • Genuine emergency – this is rarely the case. Having to switch a load of laundry doesn’t count. If this is a regular thing then there are bigger problems.
  • Power play to exert control over the group or project – there are egomaniac psychos who will try to leverage their self-perceived importance – we’ll deal with them below.
  • Chronically bad time management skills – this is more people that you think. For some knowing the time isn’t something that comes reflexively.
  • Travel time between meetings – less a factor prior to working from home but still a small commute from one Zoom session to another.
  • Corporate culture of lax punctuality – if the organization culture is one of “show up if you feel like it” then you can stop reading and find a new job. You’ll never overcome this unless you use your private equity power to buy the firm, fire everyone, and start over.
  • New younger colleagues never were taught these lessons – not picking on them but we have a generation that went through college during the pandemic and lack a lot of the “office” skills that previous generations mastered.

How to Start Meetings On Time

I’ll let you in on a secret – you can start meetings on time by…wait for it…starting meeting on time. I know it’s a bit of a letdown as you assumed there was some magical pill but alas this is it. If you are the one running the call then it is within your power to do so.

Some things I do to facilitate running an efficient meeting:

  • Have a clear agenda – everyone should know what we are here to discuss and decide. I attach it to the meeting invite.
  • Share minutes with action items – I share my screen and take minutes in front of everyone so there can be no excuse. Then I post them somewhere that everyone relevant can get to them in case they get lost in email
  • Hold those accountable for their commitments – I follow up after the calls to make sure we are progressing. If there are roadblocks we identify and remediate them ASAP.

I try to develop a reputation for running efficient meetings. Once you’ve successfully set the precedent, others will follow suit. When I run meetings, it’s a “Jeff Mlakar production” and I take full ownership of it. You have to act as if you are the director, the quarterback, the leader.

NSFW – the fun starts at the 30 second mark

What To Do With Latecomers

Another phrase I like that applies here is “praise in public, punish in private”. I speak loosely here but that’s the gist. Make sure to give positive feedback to those that show up on time and participate. In private, you can ask someone who is late to hang back a few minutes.

This is where you work out what the problem is. Could be they don’t think the meeting pertains to them and an email summary is adequate. Maybe they have an important meeting right before this that runs over and they cannot easily excuse themselves. Regardless of the reason, work through together to understand it and figure a way through it.

Your reputation is going to make or break it – either you are a trusted professional who is worthy of the time or you are not. Nobody likes to be coerced by management – it’s always better to have intrinsic motivation then external motivation.

Why Does It Matter If People Are Late?

It is important to respect those who arrive on time and ready to discuss the topic. Being on time matters and shows people:

  • Respect – for yourself, others, and the project.
  • Professionalism – this is the way that business gets done. Be professional and people will start to treat you as a professional who takes things serious, isn’t afraid to take charge, and gets things done.
  • Fosters good habits – productivity and efficiency.


For your career, if you want to step into management, it will help you to cement the skills and reputation for owning your work, successfully running it, and influencing others to play ball and get the job done.

Thanks for reading!

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