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For better meetings, set some ground rules

3 min read


This post is by Thomas Kayser, who worked for Xerox in the area of organizational effectiveness for 30 years. He is the author of two books: “Building Team Power: How to Unleash the Collaborative Genius of Teams for Increased Engagement, Productivity, and Results” and “Mining Group Gold: How to Cash in on the Collaborative Brain Power of a Team for Innovation and Results.” E-mail Tom.

Meetings can be highly productive, if they are facilitated according to shared ground rules. The first ground rule is the responsibility of the person who called the meeting; the remaining ones are a shared responsibility among all attendees to ensure  winning outcomes:

  • Live by PDORA. For every session, create a document clearly stating: The meeting’s Purpose (Why we are here); Its Desired Outcomes (What we will achieve by the meeting’s close); Assigned Roles (Primary facilitator—the manager, secondary facilitators—everyone else in attendance, minute-taker, timekeeper, and scribe); and an Agenda with clock times and topic leaders).
  • Show respect for the agenda but remain flexible in using it—modify times, priorities, and items as circumstances dictate.
  • Call for a process check and ask, “What is the best use of our team’s time right now?” whenever we see time on an agenda item running out and we haven’t achieved the desired outcome linked to it.
  • Use a “parking lot”—a separate flip chart page—for collecting information that is important to hold on to, but is not germane to the topic currently being processed.
  • Stimulate contributions by actively seeking information and opinions from others in a sincere manner, using open ended questions. (“Why do you think it won’t work?)
  • Test comprehension when unsure about what’s being said. (So what you’re saying is . . . Right?)
  • “Open the gate” to bring in quiet or non-participating individuals.
  • Positively recognize and support the constructive participation of others to maintain an open collaborative climate and keep people involved.
  • Summarize and post all decisions and action items along the way for all to see.
  • Avoid being a disruptive meeting participant, but when a person is disruptive (dominating, interrupting, starting side conversations, tuning out, rambling, overly argumentative/sarcastic), all attendees share responsibility for dealing with it.
  • Welcome and foster constructive differences as the key to critical thinking, while always being alert to stop personal attacks.
  • Be flexible in team thinking and the search for options because the team’s collective wisdom produces better ideas than solo or dictated thinking.
  • Be more concerned with “what’s right” rather than “who’s right”.
  • Review all decisions that were made, all action items, that were assigned, the “parking lot,” and any postponed agenda items at the end of every session.
  • Conduct a meeting assessment at the close of every session. (Ask: “What did we do well today?” “What could we do better next time?”)

What are the ground rules for your meetings?

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