[We’re pleased to welcome author Nale Lehmann-Willenbrock of the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands. Lehmann-Willenbrock recently published an article in the International Journal of Business Communication entitled, “Well, Now What Do We Do? Wait . . .:A Group Process Analysis of Meeting Lateness,” co-authored by Joseph Allen. From Lehmann-Willenbrock:]
What inspired you to be interested in this topic? One earlier study had shown that meeting lateness is very common in the workplace. Meetings begin late all the time, even though wasting time is typically a red flag for organizations. Lateness can be quite a nuisance for those who are punctual. We also know this from our own meetings – it’s just so annoying when you’re on time, but others are late and you are kept waiting, thus wasting precious work time. But in addition to annoying employees individually, there might also be negative effects in terms of the group as a whole. So we were curious what lateness does to the group processes in the actual meeting itself.
Joseph Allen set up a meetings lab, with the purpose of focusing on meetings as a research phenomenon. This gave him the opportunity to manipulate different variables, including different levels of meeting lateness (something that would not be possible when studying actual meetings at work).
During our collaboration on previous projects, we increasingly looked into the fine-grained interaction dynamics that make up a good meeting, or a terrible one. We have conducted several studies on group dynamics within meetings until now, and find again and again that what happens in the actual meeting matters a great deal to meeting satisfaction and effectiveness.
So the connection between lateness and group dynamics seemed like a logical connection to draw in our research.
Were there findings that were surprising to you? Overall, our findings are really quite aligned with our hypotheses. As expected, groups that begin their meetings late are less effective in terms of discussing problems in depth, generating ideas and solutions, and showing support for one another, in comparison to groups that meet on time. These findings hold when we control for meeting length. This means that the differences in these groups’ interaction patterns and the quality of their problem solving is actually due to the meeting lateness (rather than the shorter time that is available when a meeting starts late).
What is somewhat surprising though is that we found quite substantial effects of lateness in terms of derailing group dynamics and deteriorating problem solving, even though these were ad-hoc laboratory groups. Think about how much stronger the effects might even be in the real workplace, where you have to continue working together beyond the meeting.
How do you see this study influencing future research? In terms of future research, there are a host of potential other negative outcomes of lateness both within and after the meeting. We think that lateness may not just derail group dynamics and visible behaviors, as we have shown in this study, but also individual emotional experiences, for example. Moreover, the negative effects of meeting lateness may linger and carry on into employees’ work days, long after the meeting has passed.
Another factor to consider in future research concerns nonverbal expressions during meetings that start late. We noticed in our video data that group members’ nonverbal expressions became quite pronounced as the lateness period continued and they got more annoyed. Again, such expressions may be even stronger in real meetings, rather than the research lab. In this context, future research can also investigate how lateness affects the emergent group mood in the actual meeting itself.
Moreover, individual lateness to meetings might be an indicator or implicit measure of other negative employee attitudes and behaviors. For example, employees who tend to show up late for meetings might be unsatisfied or frustrated with their jobs more generally. Lateness to team meetings could also mean that the team does not feel committed to their shared task, or that the team experiences interpersonal conflict. Future research can examine these possibilities.
For practice, put simply, our results suggest: Don’t be late to your meetings, people! Leaders especially should not be late, as they are often seen as behavioral models for their employees.
Everyone should be wary of the negative consequences of meeting lateness, and therefore plan ahead so meetings can begin on time.
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