When meetings get postponed, change how you collaborate by using different techniques to achieve the same goals and manage expectations. I’m constantly frustrated when meetings get postponed, especially if they have been in the diary for some time.
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Typically, it’s the morning of the meeting that I hear a key person can’t come. Without them in the room, it’s not worth having the meeting at all.
I know sometimes emergencies happen, and sometimes my projects simply aren’t a high enough priority to warrant moving other things around so attendees can still come. I know I work with board-level execs and sometimes they have things to do that are more important than talking to me.
But it’s still frustrating.
I’ve still done the work to prepare for the session. I’ve still briefed everyone on what to expect, created an agenda, and cleared my schedule so I can give the meeting my full attention.
As a one-off, we can all cope with meetings that get rescheduled at short notice. We know it happens. But what if your meeting gets rescheduled several times, or key people can’t come even when you’ve rescheduled it already once at a time they specifically said they could do?
You’ve got a problem, my friend.
The impact of meetings being postponed in a project environment is that decisions don’t get made.
You have meetings to agree on things and move the project forward. You’re discussing topics that need to be discussed in order for the team to find their direction on an issue or resolve a problem. It could be a process point, like a lessons learned session, or a planning meeting.
The consequence of a meeting not happening is that the project slows down.
The first time a session is canceled, you can rebook it, and brush it off. The next time, you start to think about why people aren’t committing to the project. There’s a deeper reason than them simply not having the time to come along. It’s the fact that your project is not a priority to them. And that’s a stakeholder engagement issue you are going to have solved at some point in the project.
In a way, finding out that stakeholders are struggling to commit time to your project is a gift. A positive consequence is that at least you know. You know you’re going to have difficulty gaining their time and support going forward so you can work out ways to manage around that.
As we’ve said, meetings do need to sometimes be rescheduled around genuine conflicts and emergencies. The first time someone important pulls out of your meeting, be gracious and understanding; ask when would be convenient for them and arrange to reschedule the meeting at that time.
The next time your meeting gets postponed because a key person is not able to come, you have a few options.
You can talk to them about what they were hoping to get out of the meeting. Perhaps they feel it is no longer required, and after discussion, you can agree that too. In which case, the meeting can be canceled.
This option is only viable if you agree that the meeting is no longer required. If you still feel it should go ahead, try a different option.
If they can’t come, is there someone else on their team who could attend on their behalf?
This option works best if there is someone they can send who has the delegated authority. In other words, they can make decisions in the meeting without having to say, “I’ll have to take that away and discuss it with my manager.”
As a last resort, that “I’ll discuss it with my manager” option is better than nothing, but it helps your project far more if they can act on their manager’s behalf while the meeting is taking place.
Do you really need a meeting to cover the points you wanted to cover? Perhaps you could arrange a conference call or online meeting which would avoid them having to travel. Perhaps you could send questions by email and have them reply? Can you open a Slack channel and invite them to it, so you can source their input via messaging as and when you need it?
Look for other ways you can get whatever it was you were hoping to get from the meeting.
This works best if the meeting had a clear goal e.g. you were seeking subject matter expert input from someone specific, around a specific topic. It’s not going to work so well if you were trying to prioritize requirements with a group of disparate stakeholders, for example.
They might not see the importance of the meeting, but a little bit of gentle guidance may help them to understand why their attendance really is preventing the project from moving forward.
Talk to them about their role, their contribution, why you need their input, and the difficulties the project is facing moving forward on this particular topic without them. It might simply be that they haven’t realized what an impact their constant rescheduling of meetings is having on the rest of the team.
Meetings are a fact of life when you work in a project-led environment and the more you can do to make them painless for everyone, the better. If you come up against someone who constantly rejects your meeting invites and forces reschedules, often at the last minute, you’ll have to try a couple of creative strategies to encourage them to contribute in the way you need them to.
Ultimately, dealing with this problem is all about stakeholder engagement, and that’s a topic I could talk about for a long time! The tips in this article are a starting point to help you respond positively to the sinking feeling you get when an exec’s assistant calls you up saying the meeting you were hoping to have today needs to be rescheduled due to “other priorities.”
Smile, say that’s OK, reorganize your day and think about how you can gain some of their time in a way that suits both their needs and the project’s needs, in the future.