July 19, 2015

What does it mean to be late in American business interactions?

"Stress the importance of time when working with Americans."
"Don't start the session late." 
"If the participants understand anything from the training you give, they should understand not to be late!" 

The most polished preparation or organized meeting agenda can impress, but if you or your team starts the meeting late, your good name and reputation is tarnished. 

This is how it works in the US and many Western European cultures. Being late, starting late can make a deal go sour, even if you are technically brilliant or have all your ducks in a row (do everything perfect!). Why is this? Because being on time is a sign that you are organized, process oriented and respectful of other people's time and busy schedule. 


So what does it mean to actually be on time or be late in the US? 

This is what we discuss in training programs. We discuss...
  • what it actually means to be on time
  • start on time
  • when it is too late to start a meeting
  • how to start late if all the participants aren't there
  • how to organize a meeting agenda or demo presentation to account for the right time frames
  • how to wrap up within the given time 
In our cross cultural training programs, we look not only at the right etiquette but how breaking the rules makes the American clients feel, perceive others professionally, and how to solve these problems (solve them to prevent them from happening as well as how to solve problems appropriately after they happen). 

So, let's look at this with an actual example.

The meeting invite states the meeting is from 2-3pm. Let's look at a few questions.

What time should you enter the room as a participant? 
5-10 minutes before the start time. Unlike in some places in India, you do not have to enter the meeting room with a group of attendees. It's acceptable to enter alone, or before those who are of higher status.

What time should you enter the room as a moderator? 
This depends on what role the moderator has and how complex the set up is. Though a moderator doesn't have to enter before participants, usually they will and do because they have to set up the room - maybe arrange the tables or chairs, set up and/or test the sound equipment, video conference hardware, PPT projector, audio system, whiteboard or any other equipment needed, especially if they are presenting a demo or a presentation. So, if you are moderating a meeting, you may need to organize some things in advance of the start time. This means, if a meeting is from 2-3, do not book a room from only 2-3 book it from at least 1:45 or sooner depending on the complexity of the room set up required.

What time should the meeting start? 
Exactly at 2pm. Some exceptions may be based on company cultures or handling meetings over time zones. However, it's always better to connect at 1:50 if on a conference call or webex, and be on mute until 2pm so that you can start on time.

What time is too late to start the meeting?
Between 2:10- 2:15. People may start leaving if it gets to 10 after if no one has shown up. Some companies also have a culture where people will leave at 15 minutes after the start time if the meeting hasn't started. This means if the first person on the agenda is late, but others are in attendance, the meeting should still continue. In training programs, we discuss solutions your team can apply to overcome these situations. 

What time will the meeting end?
Do you remember what time you had to be in the room? We have to enter a room or meeting space 5-10 minutes before a meeting time. So, though this meeting is from 2-3, many in the room may have another meeting from 3-4 in another room or in another virtual meeting space. So, what do you think? Interestingly, a one hour meeting will wrap up by 45-50 minutes after the hour, while 30 minutes meetings wrap up by 20-25 minutes after the meeting start time. Indians are often shocked by this because many believe a one hour meeting must be 60 minutes, so if an Indian team is moderating a meeting and starts it late, it's quite possible they will continue for exactly 60 minutes. Many Indians feel cheated of the left over time if the meeting ends before 1 hour. Even in terms of Authentic Journeys, we had to adjust our business practice in India of charging on an hourly rate because the Indians would feel cheated if the one hour session ended even one minute before the 60 minute window completed! Maybe, a good compromise on global teams would be to set meeting invites for 45 or 50 minutes and not 60 minutes. That way both win! 

Often in training programs in India, we kind of laugh off some of the late comers or sessions that start late or go overtime, but these time management blunders that happen in India better not happen for special presentations, onsite or even on daily scrum meetings (too frequently) as many US clients could get frustrated and some may end the relationship if time is not managed properly.

Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director of Authentic Journeys, offers innovative business programs helping your India team manage meetings and special presentations with US stakeholders, clients and colleagues in a culturally sensitive way that leaves the best impression and builds a good reputation for your employees and your business with Americans. 

Related Posts: 

How to decline a meeting invite 
What happens if a meeting goes overtime? 
Tips on handling calls with US teams
How Indians Manage Time

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