Benefits of Starting Work Meetings On Time

[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 th4330781173_db539e781c_z.jpgose 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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Clocks photo attributed to Desmond Williams  (CC).

This entry was posted in Business, Communication, Engagement, Management, Uncategorized, Work environment by Cynthia Nalevanko, Editor, SAGE Publishing. Bookmark the permalink.

About Cynthia Nalevanko, Editor, SAGE Publishing

Founded in 1965, SAGE is the world’s leading independent academic and professional publisher. Known for our commitment to quality and innovation, SAGE has helped inform and educate a global community of scholars, practitioners, researchers, and students across a broad range of subject areas. With over 1500 employees globally from principal offices in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC, and Melburne, our publishing program includes more than 1000 journals and over 900 books, reference works and databases a year in business, humanities, social sciences, science, technology and medicine. Believing passionately that engaged scholarship lies at the heart of any healthy society and that education is intrinsically valuable, SAGE aims to be the world’s leading independent academic and professional publisher. This means playing a creative role in society by disseminating teaching and research on a global scale, the cornerstones of which are good, long-term relationships, a focus on our markets, and an ability to combine quality and innovation. Leading authors, editors and societies should feel that SAGE is their natural home: we believe in meeting the range of their needs, and in publishing the best of their work. We are a growing company, and our financial success comes from thinking creatively about our markets and actively responding to the needs of our customers.

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