|Team meetings can run amuck in hundreds of ways. People aren’t prepared, they show up late, they engage in side conversations, or remain silent, only to have the real meeting out in the hall.|
Many of the meetings are charged with emotion. Often, a team is in conflict, or communication has broken down. Sometimes a new change is being implemented and suspicion runs high. Sometimes trust is low. So, the ground rules I use are designed to stimulate communication and create respectful, honest give and take. If you’ve never used ground rules before, you may be wondering how they work. Before the meeting, write them on a flipchart and post them on the wall. Discuss each one and what it means. Ask if anyone has any others they would like to add, that will make the meeting more effective. Here are some of the ground rules and why to use them. Perhaps they will be useful for your team meetings, whether your team is in crisis or not, they will serve as a set of expectations that will keep your meetings productive and participative.
Although this may seem obvious, it often isn’t. When you state upfront that you expect all members of the team to speak up, it creates greater participation.
Different Opinions are Welcome
Contrary views usually need to be encouraged.If you don’t give permission for them during the meeting, you will likely hear about them after the meeting, which renders the meeting a waste of time.
Disagree in Private-United in Public
Team members shouldn’t show outsiders their dirty laundry. This ground rule is designed to prevent someone from walking out of a meeting and badmouthing the group to other colleagues or disagreeing (later) with a decision they participated in at the meeting. For instance, consider this comment a manager said to an employee: “In our managers’ meeting there was disagreement about that policy. Especially Charlie-he never goes along with the rest of the group. No wonder he has such problems in his department! I don’t agree with the decision, so I’m going to do what I want.” Comments like this will undermine the decision and breed disrespect.
Silence is Agreement
This ground rule is golden. Too often a person will sit quietly while everyone else is voicing their opinions about a topic. Then, later that afternoon, the silent person can be heard saying, “Well, I didn’t agree to that.”
Limit Side Conversations
Sometimes I am facilitating a meeting with over 50 people, and issues are emotional or controversial. If the group is large, this sets the expectation upfront that people need to focus on the conversation instead of buzzing with their neighbour.
Start on Time, End on Time
In many corporate cultures, people show up late for meetings. They miss important dialogue and decisions and generally disrupt the discussion. I don’t like “punishing” the prompt by making them wait for the stragglers. At the other end are those members who tend to double book themselves for multiple meetings or schedule them so close together, they must leave meetings early to make it to their next meeting. Inevitably, they get up to leave as key decisions are being made. This ground rule sets the expectation that you will be respectful of their time by starting and ending on time and you expect them to respond in kind.
Follow Through on Action Plans
If members of a group make a decision or agree to take action, they should be accountable for following through. If they lack the discipline to do what they say they will do, it erodes the meeting’s effectiveness and creates the need for more meetings to rehash what has already been decided. Usually, you don’t have to mention the ground rules once you’ve discussed them once. However, if one of them is being violated, you can gently remind the group or speak to someone after the meeting. Often, I hear members of the group remind each other of the ground rules: “Remember, silence is agreement. Do we all agree? Speak up now.” Ground rules do work.