Leadership Lessons from the United States Naval Academy – The 3 Minute Rule

StrategyDriven Leadership Lessons from the United States Naval Academy Article“Time, tide, and formation wait for no one.”
Original Author Unknown

How much time do you waste waiting for meetings to start late? How much time does your organization waste? Ever thought about the aggregated cost that wasted time represents? If you have, the number is most assuredly staggering.

Besides common courtesy, being on time for meetings is a business imperative especially in light of the costs organizations suffer in both lost time and money while waiting on those who are late. Starting meetings on time therefore increases productivity and eliminates the unnecessary waste. Whether you’re the most senior or junior person attending a meeting, there is seldom any legitimate excuse for being late and not communicating the delay to the meeting coordinator.

At the United States Naval Academy, midshipman are taught from day one that if they are not three minutes early to any pre-assigned meeting or formation that they are in fact late for the event. This rule aptly applies to the business world where late starting meetings have become so accepted they are the cultural norm. In order to be three minutes early to events, consider the following simple rules:

  • Establish a personal and organizational expectation that meeting participants will arrive three minutes early to pre-scheduled meetings and events and actively reinforce this expectation
  • Plan for the in-transit and setup time needed to start a meeting on time
  • Anticipate possible delays that may occur while transiting to or preparing for a meeting
  • Consider the pre-meeting transit, preparation, and delay time needed, don’t commit to other events ending within this time frame
  • Schedule the transit, preparatory, and delay time in your business calendar; blocking out that time specifically for the purpose of being at the event on time

If for some reason, you are going to be late for an event, notify the meeting coordinator at least fifteen minutes before the event start to let him or her know of the delay and provide an updated expected arrival time or proposed alternate meeting times to reschedule the meeting. When planning for longer potential delays, typically associated with longer travel times, bring along additional work, emails, or a PDA device so to remain productive if arriving considerably early.

Final Thoughts for Meeting Coordinators…

While discourteous for a meeting participant to be late, it’s equally disruptive for the meeting coordinator to start the meeting late. This does not mean the meeting should start three minutes early but rather that is should begin as scheduled. It is disrespectful to all those who did arrive on time for the meeting to start late; taking away from them the precious time they have to accomplish the myriad of tasks they’ve been assigned. In the worst case situation, when an absolutely critical person is not on time and has not called ahead with an estimated arrival time, it is often best to cancel and reschedule the meeting for a time when all key participants can be present.

Lastly, when scheduling meetings, observe attendees’ calendars and avoid instances where you are asking others to attend an event immediately adjacent to a meeting they are currently scheduled to participate in. Always attempt to allow for a reasonable amount of time between meetings based on your knowledge of where the person is transiting from and the preparation time they may need. Additionally, consider the preparation time needed following your meeting and the beginning of participants’ follow-on events.

In today’s busy world there are seldom ideal times to schedule any meeting or event. However, by remembering and practicing the tenants of the three minute rule in both attending and scheduling meetings organizations can realize significant productivity and financial returns and a much less frustrated workforce.

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