Ground Rules for Productive Meetings
Facilitating countless strategic planning meetings has taught me many positive lessons. Among them is the power of starting out with an agreed upon set of meeting ground rules. Getting agreement on how the meeting will be organized and implemented can pave the way for better engagement and productivity.
Over time, I’ve developed a comprehensive list of meeting ground rules. Here are five of the most popular:
- Say what you think and feel: This is no time to be bashful. The planning process will come far short of the intended outcome unless everyone is forthright and direct. The meeting room should be a safe environment where frankness and honesty (with an equal measure of tact and diplomacy) are the order of the day.
- One person talks at a time: I have worked with groups willing to experiment with higher numbers, but the best results come when one person has the floor and can convey their thoughts completely and without interruption. We’ve all experienced meetings where two people pair off in conversation, seemingly intent on having their own meeting. They seem to think that no one notices or cares. Not so. This is disruptive, disrespectful, and annoying.
- Everyone participates, no one dominates: For planning to be effective, it is essential for the group to come together as colleagues. This means you will need to check your title at the door (and yes, this includes the owner, president, CEO, etc.). Everyone is expected to listen and to participate actively in the process, and no one’s thoughts, ideas, suggestions, or recommendations are inherently more worthy simply based on title or position.
- We will have the meeting here and now: In far too many meetings, there seems to be agreement, the meeting ends and then later, the real meeting starts. This is usually attended by a smaller sub-group who only then speak openly and honestly, mostly about the flaws inherent in what was agreed to in the original meeting. This is not the way to a successful outcome. Have the meeting once and bring up issues, opportunities, and obstacles. The meeting will conclude with an agreed upon path forward with responsibilities and timelines clearly noted.
- Be fully present: This could be the most widely agreed upon ground rule and the most widely ignored. To be “fully present” participants must limit distractions. This means no texting or checking emails while in session. In fact, there is no need to have smart phones anywhere in sight. Frequent breaks will provide ample time for participants to “check in”.
Whether you utilize these ground rules, modify some or all of them, add to them or create your own, the most important element of adopting ground rules is that the group unanimously agrees to endorse and adhere to them once the meeting begins. This also means that any participant may call anyone on a ground rules violation (“Hey, Brian is looking at his iPhone”!) without fear of retribution.
Of course, having an experienced, skillful facilitator can help ensure a productive, stimulating, and practical outcome.
For more information on preparing for and executing a powerful planning meeting, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.