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I'm the project manager on a project that includes a former direct report of mine who has a tendency to show up late for meetings. When I managed him, I gave him occasional feedback about this tendency, but I clearly never succeeded in getting his attention.

Yesterday at our project meeting, he and another member of the team who works in the same building he works in arrived 11 minutes late. The other four of us who were in the meeting room, including one on the phone, had been waiting for these two people to arrive. We couldn't take up the first agenda item without them there, and so we waited for them.

I became increasingly agitated and had already announced my intention to cancel and reschedule the meeting when the two of them walked in. When I told them that I had canceled the meeting, my former direct report expressed exasperation: "What? You're canceling the meeting? But we're here now!" I lost my temper, reminded him that this was the second meeting I had had to cancel because of his lateness, said that I couldn't and wouldn't conduct a one-hour agenda in 50 minutes, and said, "You're late to meetings all the time. I'm not going to put up with this, and I'm going to talk to your manager about it." And then I left the room. 

I did send an email to his manager (another former direct report of mine), but the last time this happened, I'm not sure that she ever even spoke to him about it, and I'm not counting on my email doing any good.

I am interested in hearing suggestions and strategies for a project manager to deal with aberrant behavior from team members in the absence of any role power. I think part of what is going on here may be that this guy realizes that I no longer have any power over him since I am no longer his manager. But his behavior is wasting my time and the time of other team members, and it is affecting the progress of the project.

Thanks,

Bill

jhack's picture

Bill,

Do you use the recommended feedback model (see here: http://www.manager-tools.com/manager-tools-basics )

John Hack

ashdenver's picture

I've NEVER believed in starting meetings late.  We start on time because I - as the leader of the meeting - value the time of everyone attending the meeting even if stragglers do not.  Additionally, whenever and wherever possible, meetings are thirty minutes or less.  And NEVER-EVER does a meeting run over the scheduled time period.  Again, I value everyone's time and I stick to the commitments made with regard to that time.

If they're not there, we're moving on without them. 

If nothing else can be reviewed without their presence, I would have a round-table, gather notes about outstanding issues that should have been addressed had they been present and then adjourned the meeting.  I would document - in writing - the outstanding roundtable items and sent out requests for direct follow-up with approrpriate carbon copies.  Ostensibly, this will create extra work on the part of the stragglers -- to write up and document what they could have covered in a three minute conversation generally takes more time. 

Like JHack, I would definitely address the tardiness as a separate issue using the Feedback Model.  "When you are late to meetings, it throws the entire agenda out of whack, you look unprofessional and it causes extra work for everyone else on the project. What could you do differently?" 

With every new team, I always - without fail - set the expectation that meetings will start and end on time because I value everyone's time.  That way, it's clearly an insult when a straggler arrives because they've made it pretty obvious they don't value other people's time.  There will be karmic payback on the peer level when this happens - I've seen it. 

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ashdenver's picture

And if they show up in the midst of the roundtable, they can respond to whatever question they hear (nothing gets repeated for their benefit) and things can move on from there but the meeting still ends on time or ASAP and the onus of catch-up falls directly in their laps.

We occasionally have people here who come late with the excuse that "my last call ran late."  Tough noogies, in my book.  Either you cannot control your calls and wrangle your clients or business partners effectively or you just don't care about anyone's time - allowing the other call to go long is a signal that you don't value the time of the person on the other end of the phone and coming late to the next appointment ...  well, you get the idea.

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tlhausmann's picture

Hi Bill,

Handling such events, in addition to feedback, is covered in a series of MT podcasts on running effective meetings:

http://www.manager-tools.com/2005/08/effective-meetings-get-out-of-jail

http://www.manager-tools.com/2005/08/effective-meetings-part-two?#

http://www.manager-tools.com/2005/08/effective-meetings-theres-more?#

*Yinz* will get better with practice. :-) How 'bout dem Stillers?

mandrillone's picture

William,

Start your meeting on time and move straight to agenda item 2) or 3) or which ever isn't predicated by the opinion of late-guy. If 1) was so important to late-guy, he'll get it when 1) is squeezed into 45 seconds at the end, or as "New" suggested have some homewwork to catch up. 

I have sat through many ineffective 3 hr meetings whereby we accomplished less than in an effective 30 minute meeting. Maybe you should have just carried on and used your 49 minutes to their best effect;

Practically I think you we struggle to deliver stage 4 of feedback (ie the "what can you do differently" line) to non directs/skips ets. HOWEVER I don't believe you need roll power to take the guy or girl aside at the end of your meeting and tell that our meeting was ineffective because of his lateness and ask can he please be on time next time (effectively deliver stages 2 &3 of feedback). Don't get into a great debate, nor expect an apology, just tell him he makes us all late, wait for him and be ineffective, so can he be on time next time? If you deliver this neutrally without frustration, with the only thought in your mind being 'how can I encourage him to be on time next time', it will sink in.

Sounds to me like this person disproportionately annoys you, 11 mins late is not good but doesn't deserve a dummy-spit! You should work on smiling when you meet him (use whatever dark image makes you smile) but find some mechanism to suffer him better. As I recently heard, 'the way you feel is your fault'

My experience tells me that complaining to someones manager is one of the worst ways to muddy your relationship with that person.

Why do others peoples problems always appear simple than my own?

Good luck William

M

 

williampollak's picture

 Thanks for your thoughtful and smart comments, folks.

No, I didn't use the Feedback Model in this case; I used the Say Stupid Things That You Later Regret model. As a former manager of 48 people who is now an implementer with no direct reports (marketing manager for a research group), I'm still learning that I no longer have the word "Boss" stamped on my forehead and that I have to find other strategies for getting people to cooperate with me. The feedback model would be a good one.

I agree that I should have found a way to start that meeting on time, no matter who was or wasn't there. Lots of good tips in your comment about how to make that work, ashdenver.

Mandrillone, the difficulty for me in this situation is encapsulated in your phrase, "if you deliver this neutrally without frustration." Once I became angry, that became impossible, at least until the anger subsided. I've learned again and again--the hard way--that anything I do when my emotions are active and out of my control, at work or in any other part of my life, is sure to have a negative outcome.

"Find some mechanism to suffer him better." Check.

"The way you feel is your fault." Check.

Complaining to the manager is stupid and counterproductive. Check. 

The good news: I'm starting another project next week in which this same person will be a key team member, so I'll have an opportunity to set ground rules about meeting behavior from the beginning. And when this happens again, I'll be ready with some strategies for dealing with it. 

Thanks all.