Dealing with punctuality as a problem

Element Descriptor

Lack of punctuality in social movement organisations tends to spiral – 5 minutes becomes 10 becomes 30. Doing anything about it requires tact, social power and determination. Without resolving punctuality issues, groups often decline or die, with morale and credibility sinking regardless.

Level descriptors

NovicePractitionerExpertNinja
Able to explain the importance of punctuality and maintain good practice in a small group of highly motivated and relatively well organised people who know each other wellAble to cope with punctuality when it is being used as a proxy between competing individuals/factions, some of whom think time is a bourgeois concept anyway, and who do you think died and made you chief fascist?Able to maintain good punctuality and time discipline with large groups of people with competing understandings of the importance of timekeeping and the consequence for failure, in situations where some are actively trying to scupper the groupAble to surface the underlying causes and consequences of lack of punctuality with groups who have become wedded to ‘yeah whatever’ and are currently blind to its implications for recruitment and retention. Able to instill good practice without creating resentment or rancour, and to maintain it over time.

Element Overview Essay

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So, much like with accountability, punctuality is seen as uptight, andl capitalist. “I had to clock on and clock off at my shitty job where they dock me 15 minutes pay if I am 10 seconds late –  I don’t see why the same batshit crazy. disciplining should be imposed on me when I’m trying to make a different better world, and we should be prefigurative and we should be relaxed about punctuality.” 

Non hierarchical social movement organisations, in this case it was Climate Camp, tend to be extremely uninterested in questions of punctuality. And I think the obvious reason is that they’ve gotten involved in these sorts of anti-boss, anti-bossiness, anti bureaucracy, anti technology, whatever groups to get away from. All of that, clocking in clocking out stuff. 

Actually, I have a lot of sympathy for that general argument, but I think it’s a little bit disingenuous, and it’s a little bit convenient, and mostly, most importantly, it does work because people are busy. Yes, we’re being exploited by the capitalists, but we’re busy. And so if you have a meeting that’s supposed to start at seven o’clock, for example, and people are trickling in… .-  Now, I should say that this is less of a problem online with zoom calls and so forth, because people don’t have the problem of buses, punctures to tires when they’re cycling. All the other stuff of the real world that we would like to get back to, – but if people are trickling in, and this flim flam, and the agenda is not starting on time, what that means is the items lower down in the agenda and the any other business are not going to get the discussion that they need, and there won’t be opportunities for people to brainstorm, or to connect in ways to network in ways that they might otherwise have been able to do. 

But what you’ve got is a bunch of people not meeting quite on time, always five minutes late, always 10 minutes late. for the reasons above, maybe they’re trying to send a signal as well that the meeting can’t really start till they are present, because they’re secretly the most important person….  Just spitballing here…

The consequences are, you don’t get through all your agenda. You’re sending a signal to new people, that your group is not particularly serious about itself.. And it is not particularly concerned about their time and their energy, which might be quite limited. 

Think about it this way – would you go to a GP, for example, who was too disorganised to wash his hands or her hands before they did an examination on us? And if they then told you, “oh, well, you know, I’m running late “ you wouldn’t accept that. Well, at least I hope. 

So. for punctuality the solutions to it are difficult. They’re gonna be ongoing. All of us can be late sometimes. Some of us are like, almost all of the time. And again, there needs to be perhaps an informal approach by a buddy saying, “Hey, what’s going on? Every time we try and have a meeting at such and such a time, you’re late.” And then lo and behold, it may be that person has got a really difficult scheduled meeting, just before with their boss or their uncle or whatever, that they can’t change, that that meeting is really quite emotionally stressful and exhausting, and that they always take five minutes to decompress before coming into the next meeting. Well, that’s entirely valid and it’s a pity that they didn’t feel safe to be able to explain that to the group. So you could simply say, “Okay, we’ll start the meeting without you, knowing that you’re going to be five minutes late. Or we could find out if the meeting can be moved to a different day.” But once you know what the problem is, you can start to do something about it. 

Okay. Sometimes people are just disorganised and they don’t think that they should be asked to change their habits around punctuality. They think it’s a personal affront that it’s a sign of their innate beautiful rebelliousness that they don’t listen to the time of the Man, man. Yeah, well, again, as with accountability, these people need to have it explained gently. Away from the limelight, compassionately. The consequences for their behaviour are being imposed on other individuals within the group and the group as a whole. And therefore, more broadly damaging the things that the group is trying to achieve. 

So the the fix for it, it’s relatively simple. You have someone who is chief fascist time dictator, and if it has to be rotated Think so that no one person gets exhausted by nagging. And you start meeting when it’s supposed to start. And when people drift in, it is made clear to them that they are late. And that they really, if they can’t make it for that time, they need to tell people, and if they’re going to be late, they let someone else in the group know, you have a code of conduct. I will be on time. If I’m not going to be on time, I will let the chair know by text WhatsApp, Tinder, Grindr, carrier pigeon, and I will let someone else in the group know. So that it’s not all the chair’s, email boxes bunged up. And you commit not to do it again. And if an entire meeting always needs to start 10 minutes later, because you’re coming off something else that you can’t avoid. then so be it. But if you keep pretending that you’re going to be on time and you’re not, then you’re showing massive disrespect to the group 

And, you know, start the meeting on time. And when people turn up, people turn up, and if they haven’t voted, or they haven’t, given their feedback on various items, or whatever, that’s their problem, not yours. 

But ultimately, if that becomes disruptive, then you and disruptive should generally be used only when people are being deliberately awkward, but nonetheless, persistent lack of punctuality is disruptive, then you might need to reconsider whether they’re really a good fit for the group. Or not.

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