Why have groundrules?
Pause for a moment and think about your answer to the following question:
What rules should be followed in all meetings, by everyone, to give those meetings the best chance of being productive and efficient?
Write down you answers in a list.
Now a second question, if you were to ask other people to create a list of their answers to the same question, would they create the same list?
And finally, if you were to ask them (or yourself) to come up with a list in a fractious political meeting, would it be the same list as they would come up with in one that is calm and ordered?
The point is that our view of what rules should apply vary depending on who we are and the circumstances we are in at the time. And if they are not written down and agreed somewhere, those assumed rules shift under pressure, and cannot be relied on by everyone – so they are not really rules at all, just self-imposed conventions at best.
As a result, unproductive behaviours regularly undermine meeting efficiency.
Purpose of meeting groundrules
Conversely, where the rules have been defined, it gives people the opportunity to:
- Recalibrate their expectations of their own and each other’s behaviour
- Operate within a consistent set of explicit rules, and not be hampered by assumed ones
- Actively adjust the rules (together) if it becomes collectively advantageous to do so
- Use the rules to address circumstances when unproductive behaviour takes place
How to use groundrules
To be effective, groundrules need to be agreed by everyone at the meeting. if they are not, they are unlikely to carry any weight with people when they are most needed.
Fortunately, getting people to agree groundrules is not particularly difficult. These Example Groundrules provide a reasonable basis for gaining agreement, but feel free to adapt them to your own needs.
To use them, put them on a slide or a flipchart, and then propose them as a code which will help to ensure the meeting remains productive, and ask ‘if we, as a group, are willing to adopt these for the meeting’? The answer is likely to be yes, but if there is dissent, ask the dissenters what they would need to see changed in the groundrules to make them something that they could commit to. And then either make the adjustments, or take the matter off-line.
Groundrules can apply to behaviours outside the meeting also, as this great example from IBM indicates:
Track your progress to ensure the efficacy of this strategy.