From the Electronic Discussion on Group Facilitation

Late Comers for Breakfast


From: Dutch Driver <>
Date: Sat, 14 Feb 2004 12:23:58 -0800


It is a dilemma that many of us face.I am a volunteer facilitator for a professional organizationís area breakfast for consultants.


People are arriving up to 30 minutes late for the hour and one-half meeting. The problem is growing and it is disruptive to the flow of the meeting.


So, I am looking for gentle/fun recommendations to handle this and nip this behavior in the bud, and get them in the room on time.



From: Dale Emery <>
Date: Sat, 14 Feb 2004 14:10:11 -0800


Hi Dutch,


Put "managing meetings" as the topic for one of your upcoming meetings.Then when people arrive late, that gives the group a nice example to explore and resolve.


In fact, even if you don't have a specific topic to discuss meetings, you can give the problem to the group to solve Ė raise the issue as a group issue, and facilitate the ensuing conversation.




From: Steve Alexander <>
Date: Sat, 14 Feb 2004 14:16:17 -0800


I always "reward" good behavior and ignore "bad" behavior (the old Skinnerian in me!), so we give memorable prizes at the end of the meeting for the person who arrived first; after a few team meetings, everyone was in competition be get the "first to arrive" prize.One of the ground rules established early on is "start on time, end on time," and I state outright that my job is be prepared and get started on time, and to likewise commit to ending on time (and when we do both, people really appreciate having their time honored).With a new group I always share a concept from the days when I taught time management, and that is that when a person is late, it's a way of saying they are much more important than you, it is a symptom of egocentric behavior.Even though all of us try to justify it, whether it related to not allowing enough time for traffic, taking that "last minute" phone call, or whatever the excuse (I also teach them the difference between a "reason" and an "excuse"), each of these stems from putting yourself before others.No one likes to think of themselves this way, and we do discuss it for a few minutes in a first session, then the group becomes the "behavior monitor" of itself after a bit.


I must say, though, the prizes really work!We are all little boys and girls deep inside, so the movie tickets, coffee shop coupons, etc. are great "treats" than people enjoy.


From: Paula M. Diller <>
Date: Sat, 14 Feb 2004 17:20:40 -0600


My assumption #1: The meeting is a voluntary activity among consultants.


My assumption #2: The tardy consultants do not believe the value they get from the first half hour of the meeting warrants an investment of their time and attention.


My assumption #3: Appealing to the consultants' sense of values/altruism may have some effect, but it doesn't address their desire for a perceived return on their investment of time and attention.


I like the idea of laying out the behavior and its effect to the group and let them address it - after the latecomers have arrived.


Alternatively, if it's not being done already, a meeting evaluation might be helpful, especially if someone else is in charge of the meeting agendas.


From: Barbara Pirie <>
Date: Sun, 15 Feb 2004 13:48:38 +1200


What is 'late'?????


What is 'on time'????


These are cultural constructs with clock time being important in some cultures but irrelevant in others.Other time options are event time or relationship time.


So being late is not a power trip unless it is a behavior that displays 'power over' within that culture.


It could just mean some one got caught in traffic.


We tend to translate a behavior from our cultural perspective but there are multiple meanings to all behaviors.Check out the various expectations and assumptions about time/meeting time (yours, the group members, the group, the profession, the geographical area, etc.).


You could facilitate a discussion about the different time segments available in their breakfast meeting.†† A lot of professional groups I know with breakfast meetings plan the first half to ĺ hour for networking so it's on 'relationship time'.†† Then the program occurs in the later half of the meeting and that runs more on 'clock time'.†† Some have a flexible half hour at the end (room is still booked for the group) so that any interesting discussion can be completed by those that are interested in staying on even though the meeting is officially closed.


The group has a lot of options and I think it should choose.


Prizes for being early/on time remind me of kindergarten or sunday school.They would work in a culture where competition is important but might be viewed negatively in a cooperation culture.


From: Robin Gast <>
Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2004 09:09:40 -0600


Is it the same few people each time or does it vary?If it is the same people, talk to them directly.I can't stand the "let's make a policy so everyone can feel bad" mentality when you really only need to handle a select few.


If it varies, maybe you can ask them afterwards what was up.Everyone has a crisis in their mornings on occasion.You need to find the cause(s) before you can start directing the solution.


Also, if this is a consistent problem, maybe your meeting is starting too early.School and daycares only open so early so working families can't just leave that 15 minutes earlier to accommodate the ever possible traffic jam that just MIGHT occur that morning.


From: Jon Jenkins <>
Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2004 16:55:37 +0100


Dear Dutch


There seem to be a couple of solutions.


1. Itís your problem, get over it and live with people being late.


2. Talk it through with the group or individuals who are the offenders.Decide together on sanctions for those who are late.


2.1 Talk it through with the group or individuals who are the offenders with the assumption that the talking will solve the problem.


3. Create subtle or not so subtle sanctions for those who are late (or rewards for those who are early).


4. Announce that we will all be on time but "on time" means we won't start until 30 min. after the announced starting time.


5. Create enough guilt in those who are late that they stop coming.


6. Change the structure of the meeting so that being late isn't a problem.


Some of these have the feel of punish the many for the sins of the few.


We Americans seem to be a bit obsessed with being on time.It is funny, in my experience it is at the level of the minute that we check and not at the second or millisecond or the hour or the day.You could announce that the meeting with start at 08:30:00:01.I hear stories of making an appointment for Tuesday in full knowledge that it means sometime this week or so.


I tend to agree with Barbara about time being a cultural thing.The Dutch make promises that they will be on time but meetings always start at least 10 min. after the starting time.They then complain about "other cultures" that are always late.I showed up "on time" to an appointment in Sri Lanka and was told that I was being very rude.I had a boss who put his brief case (sample case) in front of the door at the starting time so people had to climb over it.Another person always waited to being until everyone was present.A third started right on time and ended on time.One guy I knew was always late because he felt it was a high status thing to do.Many people in one organisation I worked with showed up late for meetings and left early because the only thing that was important for them was the fact that they "were there."


From: Greg Brittingham <>
Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2004 11:25:47 -0600


Hi Dutch,


What is the underlying cause of the dysfunctional behavior?As some people mentioned, maybe traffic, day-care openings, etc. is the cause.Maybe the meeting isn't meeting their needs but they feel obligated to make an appearance - so the purpose of the gathering may need to shift to meet their needs.Maybe an hour is all that is needed, not 90 minutes.


Why not ask the group?Offer an objective observation of what has happened without pointing fingers."I notice on any given meeting that 10-20% of the members do not arrive at the scheduled starting time.Is this affecting the work/purpose of this meeting and if so, how?What can we do to make it better?"


Let them define the problem, if one exists, and the solution.


From: Ned Ruete <>
Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2004 11:53:51 -0500


My sense from Dutch saying that it's getting worse is that he believes it's becoming a culture of "it's okay, we never start on time."


IF that's your diagnosis the first thing is to check it out.Then ask the group if they want to do anything about it.Straight out of Schwarz "The Skilled Facilitator" developmental facilitation/ diagnosis-intervention cycle.


What do others think?



From: L. H. TURNER III <>
Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2004 12:10:02 -0600


Originally Dutch said:

††††††† People are arriving up to 30 minutes late for the hour and one-half meeting. The problem is growing and it is disruptive to the flow of the meeting.


Later, Ned said:

††††††† IF that's your diagnosis the first thing is to check it out.and asked:

††††††† What do others think?


Lou comments:

My Root Cause Analysis side first wants to know: What is THE problem?Is the problem people arriving late? or is the problem disruptive flow? or is there something else that is lurking behind both of these observations?


It has already been pointed out that "late" could have various meanings, or being late can have various causes - even that the meeting is scheduled too early.The RCA process - a facilitated team charged with doing an analysis and reaching a justified conclusion - focuses on first defining and identifying the problem and then searching for the cause(s).Only after verifying the causes and the logic of their connection to the specific problem does the process shift to mitigation or what some call "solution



At the risk of sounding overly simplistic, the process is:

(1) Get the question - problem defined, (2) then look for the causes, (3) verify that it fits all the facts, (4) and then look for solutions.


Perhaps this helps Dutch with his breakfast meeting.I might take the opportunity to use this situation to instruct the group in the basics of the RCA process itself by taking it as the example problem for them to work on.


This conversation thread has presented a number of simple questions and comments that I found helpful for thinking about problem solving and identification. Thanks Dutch for asking your question.


From: Bill Harris <>
Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2004 17:22:43 -0800


Ned Ruete <> writes:


> IF that's your diagnosis the first thing is to check it out.Then ask the

> group if they want to do anything about it.Straight out of Schwarz "The

> Skilled Facilitator" developmental facilitation/ diagnosis-intervention

> cycle.


I like Barbara's, Ned's, and Greg's (and thus Roger's) ideas.


I've heard of the penalty approach ($1 for being late, for example).I react quite negatively to that, I'm afraid.Perhaps that's because I know some people for whom $1 is a fraction of the multiple cups of coffee they have daily, and that $1is less painful than changing their behavior. I know others who watch their every dollar and for whom the $1 is about their lunch for the day.


If it's a business issue, treat it in a business-like manner.If it's a cultural issue, treat it in a culturally sensitive or at least appropriate manner.In either case, I suspect Ned's idea above works well, although you might have to modify how you ask depending upon the



I can't figure out when to penalize latecomers or reward prompt attenders unless we are ourselves into control


From: creative connections <>
Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2004 22:08:57 -0500


I have to say that all the replies to this message are fantastic and totally sensible


However Dutch you cannot solve this problem.


The late comers are beyond your control.


You can create a hostile environment for them with ever increasing creativity (another I thought of was to have special information in that first half hour like a new place or time to meet) which can and maybe will torment them... however ....


It is always the problem stater that has the problem, and if we are to be of any assistance to you, at all, we need to know - In this situation do you and only you have a issue?