Handling the Late Meeting Attendee

Most meetings have one or two meeting attendees who are notoriously late. Most team leaders either ignore the problem or cause a confrontation that causes a bigger problems. Dana Brownlee coaches her clients to build a culture of accountability within the team. In this clip she discusses the technique of using ground rules to help address problem behavior in an effective way.

Here are some additional tips for managing the late attendee:

Dear Dana,

I’ve got one team member who has shown up late to the last several meetings.  She always gives us a quick “sorry, guys…running from one meeting to the next”, but we end up having to recap what we’ve discussed and often reopen conversations.  It’s really frustrating not just for me but for others I’m sure.  She’s a key player, and I’m afraid to alienate her because the truth is WE NEED HER.  Sometimes I wonder if I should say anything…maybe I should just be glad she’s breaking her neck to make it to the meetings at all.  What do you think?

Marcie in San Francisco

Dear Marcie,

Great question!  This is one I’ve struggled with myself on numerous occasions.  As with most complex questions, the answer isn’t black and white – instead there are various approaches which might help address your situation:

  • Ask her what’s going on. I hate to be so simplistic but sometimes the best solutions are the simplest.  One mistake we all make is jumping to erroneous conclusions so don’t assume…ask!  You might say…”Sharon, I know that we’ve all got a full plate these days and fitting in all the meetings can be a challenge.  That’s why I want to be sure I’m making the most of our meetings.  The past couple meetings we’ve had to backtrack on a few issues to recap discussion after you arrived, and I’m just concerned that ten minutes of recap here and there can really add up.  What are your thoughts?”
  • Debrief your meetings asking each person to share one thing that is working well and one thing that isn’t working during the meetings. If you’re sensing this is a frustration for others, it will certainly be raised during the debrief.  After one or two team members mention the “late starts”, simply ask the team “What do you guys think we should do about that?”
  • Talk to her offline to ensure she knows the value of her input/participation. Everyone likes to feel needed J  Ask her if she can commit to being present for the full meeting going forward.  If not, consider asking her to participate for the last thirty minutes or so holding issues relevant for her until then.
  • Establish a ground rule with your team about not backtracking for latecomers.
  • Talk to your team about establishing some sort of consequence for latecomers. One of my previous teams decided that anyone late should have to sing a few bars of the Star Spangled Banner when they arrive.  It worked like a charm!