Set rules together; don’t order absolutes

by | Jul 1, 2013 | Blog | 0 comments

Absolute in martini glassAbsolute is an ingredient for martinis and other adult beverages.

Absolute is not a way to run meetings, especially when you’re dealing with complex, time-sensitive strategic issues.

For example, it’s futile to declare absolutes about how to handle smart phones in meetings, when most of us knowledge workers are more “addicted” to our electronic devices than drugs and alcohol.

Consider the dictate to keep your cell phone in your pocket rather than place it on the meeting table.  (Or worse, put it in a pile in the middle of the table with all the other look-alike cell phones.)

In the post “Does your cell phone make you look stupid?” a well-respected productivity expert wrote that “Having a cell phone sitting between you and someone else may communicate a false level of importance.”

Yes. However, what if everyone at the meeting needs to have their calendars handy to look at dates to prepare for an upcoming event? What do the people who have their calendars in their phones do?

Or what about people who take their meeting notes on their phones?

Instead of making meeting rules that others may view as arbitrary, have the group co-create its ground rules and review them every three to four months.

Many of the groups I work with have adopted ground rules for their meetings (although some forget to use them, which is almost as bad as not having ground rules).  And if they don’t have ground rules, I encourage them to do so, including facilitating the process to create the rules.

Custom rules—which the group can alter or suspend to fit changing circumstances—provide three advantages. They:

  1. Focus attention on how you work together, not just what you do.
  2. Compel agreement on how team members interact with one another.
  3. Put power for policing into the group, encouraging individuals to practice self-control as well as help keep others on point and track.

When groups co-create their meeting ground rules, they own the success of their meetings.  The team members have taken valuable time to be explicit about how they’re going to work together, which helps them be both more collegial, supportive and more productive.  (This is the concept of going slow first to go fast later.)

For example, take the practice of setting the timer on a cell phone to monitor the length of the discussion, including the time each person speaks at a clip. (This rule isn’t for everyone; however, it helps avoid one or two people monopolizing the discussion.)

When the phone starts beeping, you know your three minutes (or whatever length of time you agreed to) is up. If you want, you can blame the meeting rules, not the individual across the table for shutting you up—and possibly down.

Five of my favorite ground rules that deserve a toast these days are:

  • Show respect with your words and body language (No eye rolling around the table!)
  • Say “ditto” if you agree (Don’t feel a need to repeat the same points.)
  • Practice ELMO (Enough, Let’s Move On) to stay out of the muck
  • We’re in Las Vegas (“What’s said here, stays here” when discussing confidential issues, especially around people.)
  • Put new issues on the bicycle path for discussion later (This group wanted to support its organization’s environmentally-friendly policies so they switched to this phrase from the more common “parking lot.”)

When team members create ground rules that are more socially meaningful to them, the individuals introduce an element of fun into their meetings, which helps with the overall meeting experience. And that translates into meetings that encourage more thoughtful, deep discussions and produce better decisions and other outcomes.

What ground rules work well for you and your teams?


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