Maybe you call them ground rules. I prefer to refer to them as guiding principles. To me, rules sound like something that some people just like to break so I tend to avoid that term. It doesn’t matter what you call them, guidelines established at the beginning of a meeting can allow for more effective communication and more productive meetings. Creating these rules or principles may take 5-10 minutes at the beginning of a meeting, but the investment in time can result in more productive meetings. It’s most helpful when those principles can be posted at each meeting so that they are in clear view of participants.
Why Set Guiding Principles?
Does every meeting require guiding principles? Probably not; however if you have a group of people who haven’t worked together before, it can help to determine expectations at a meeting. Once a work group has formed a list that everyone can work with, that same list can use used at future group meetings. Simply a reminder of the list is all it takes as well as a reminder that someone can discuss a change in the guiding principles at any time.
Currently, I participate in a group that has the guiding principles posted at every meeting. At the beginning of each meeting, the meeting facilitator reads through the principles and asks participants if those still work for us. Sometimes I think that is a bit much as the same people participate on this committee that meets once a month; however I will admit that it gives me time to really focus on the meeting and business at hand as they are read. One of the principles that group uses to leave the meeting with a clear sense of next steps. This helps us move forward from meeting to meeting and helps us make sure we understand the action steps we should be working towards. I do think that principle helps keep our meetings to be meetings just for the sake of meeting. We actually make progress from meeting to meeting.
Guiding principles can especially be useful when a group has experienced some trust issues or controversial topics may be discussed. In those instances, the principles can help create a safe place to move the organization or group forward. If you have been in a meeting where there are conflicts, you know it can be helpful to have something to point to and guide participants. In these situations, a principle that reminds us to attack the problem, not the person, can be helpful.
Perhaps you have been in a meeting where participants aren’t paying attention. Maybe a participant is always looking at his/her smart phone, or a couple of participants are visiting about other topics. As those actions can be distracting, they can keep the business of the meeting from moving a long in a timely manner. In these situations, there are several principles that can be helpful. Those could include: No one-on-one side meetings or conversations. Stay mentally and physically present. Listen actively to others. Do not interrupt other participants.
Recently I facilitated a meeting where I had a poster of common guiding principles. In this situation, I read through the principles and asked if they made sense? I also asked if they wanted to add or change or remove any of them. This technique can save some time when it may be a meeting of a group that will only meet once or twice. As I was getting ready to leave, one of the participants mentioned that she did like having those posted. If you haven’t used guiding principles or ground rules or whatever you want to call them, try them at your next meeting. It may be your most effective meeting yet!