Successful meetings are often the result of numerous unspoken rules.
The problem with unspoken rules, however, is that not everyone will adhere to them.
Because they’re essentially an invisible code of conduct.
Now while it’s not too much to ask that employees display a certain level of professionalism in these meetings, the main issue is that individuals don’t always realize their behaviors are problematic.
For example, some employees may naturally dominate the discussions, leaving inadequate time for their peers to contribute.
Alternatively, there may be team members with clashing personalities, which can cause unnecessary conflict, not to mention low levels of psychological safety.
So, what’s the solution?
How do you ensure that the meetings being run across your organization are not only productive, but also inclusive?
In short, by establishing meeting ground rules.
Throughout this article, we’ll cover what exactly meeting ground rules – or meeting norms – are, share examples of these ground rules, and provide guidance on managers can establish them with their teams.
Examples of ground rules for team meetings
1. Be clear on the type of meeting you're having
Meetings typically fall into one of three categories: information sharing, decision making or problem solving.
While they're all equally important, they shouldn't be combined.
It's therefore important that attendees are aware of the purpose of the meeting in ahead of time, so that they can come adequately prepared.
Better yet, they should be encouraged to contribute to the agenda, as this not only helps to ensure that everything that needs to be covered will be, but it also increases the chances of attendees raising concerns that they otherwise wouldn't.
2. Limit the number of attendees
You’ve likely heard the term “too many chefs in the kitchen”.
Well, the same can be said for meetings.
Having more people attend than is necessary not only impacts productivity and outcomes, but it can also waste valuable time.
There are, of course, exceptions. For instance, if you’re running an all-hands, organization-wide meeting, then the number of attendees can run into the hundreds, if not thousands.
Generally speaking though, meetings should only include stakeholders who need to be there and should allow adequate time for everyone to contribute.
3. Listen attentively
Teams should agree to be both physically and mentally present in meetings. They should agree not to interrupt one another or have separate conversations.
This is perhaps one of the most important rules, as it not only leaves the person speaking feeling disrespected and undervalued, resulting in poor psychological safety, but it can also put others off from sharing their thoughts or raising their own concerns in future meetings.
4. Enforce time discipline
From a business perspective, time is money.
From an employee perspective, time is often limited and too much of it spent in meetings gets in the way of their ability to do deep work. Which means that these meetings can come at a huge cost to not only their productivity, but also their wellbeing.
With this in mind, team members should respect each other’s time by not only sticking to a schedule, but also by arriving promptly and coming prepared.
One way that managers can support time management in meetings is by encouraging all parties to contribute to a digital agenda, ahead of the meeting.
It can also be good practice for them to work with their teams to determine a meeting cadence that works for everyone. This can be done by assessing whether each scheduled meeting is actually needed—some may be able to be replaced with other forms of asynchronous communications—and if they can be improved. For example, it may be possible for certain recurring meetings to be shorter, or with fewer attendees.
Need help doing this? Why not use our free meeting optimization exercise.
5. Agree the system of record
It can be beneficial to agree on where meeting documentation can be accessed, as this not only keeps the meetings disciplined, but it also reduces the requirement for team members to attend every meeting in person.
On that note, you may want to agree on what the process is for when a team member is unable to attend.
For example, do they need to let the rest of the team know in a specific Slack channel, or do they just need to make the facilitator aware?
6. Speak up
It is the job of the meeting facilitator – a role usually taken by the manager or team lead – to create an inclusive environment where all attendees feel empowered to speak their minds, whether that be putting forward new ideas, voicing concerns, or simply asking questions.
An agreed set of meeting norms can help reduce social anxiety and let individuals know that they can do this without any negative consequences.
For further guidance on how managers can run inclusive team meetings, have a read of our comprehensive guide.
7. Focus on issues, not people
Without ground rules, conflict can very quickly rear its ugly head.
Unfortunately, not only does this lead to a toxic environment, negatively impacting psychological safety, but it can also lead to team members becoming defensive and bringing up unrelated issues, which in turn wastes both time and productivity.
For this reason, it’s recommended that teams collectively agree that meetings will be used to find solutions to a problem, rather than assigning blame and making problems personal.
That doesn’t mean that debate isn’t welcome though.
After all, honest and constructive conversations are crucial for high performance, it should just be done in a respectful manner.
8. Camera on or camera off?
Meetings are a great way to ensure face-to-face time when working in remote or hybrid teams, which is why many organizations ask team members to switch their cameras on during meetings.
According to research, however, turning your camera off can actually lead to more productive meetings, as individuals are able to concentrate on the contents of the meetings, rather than worrying that they're being "watched".
Whatever your team decides is best for them, it can be worth agreeing it in advance as part of the meeting norms.
Benefits of developing meeting ground rules
Improved psychological safety
By agreeing on meeting norms, teams can lay the foundations for healthy conflict.
In other words, they can share honest and constructive feedback or voice concerns, without there being any fear of negative consequences.
By improving psychological safety, teams will see an increase in productivity and engagement, which in turn drives greater performance outcomes.
While managers are ultimately responsible for controlling the team dynamic and setting an example for others to follow, ground rules can help ensure that everyone is treated fairly.
This includes giving everyone a voice in meetings and encouraging them to speak out, despite their backgrounds.
The reality is, without established ground rules, meetings can easily end up being dominated by a select few, which can leave everyone else feeling less valued.
These ground rules therefore help managers establish a culture of inclusion in their teams.
Improved productivity and engagement
By setting norms that help keep meetings punctual by sticking to an agenda, team members will often be more engaged and productive.
Better working relationships
Ground rules that encourage a culture of inclusion and respect can enable team members to build trust with one another and therefore strengthen working relationships.
How to set ground rules as a team
Keep in mind that the meeting ground rules covered above are there to provide you with some examples of what other businesses do.
They shouldn’t be enforced on teams by managers, rather managers should work with their teams to develop their own meeting norms, using these as topics for discussion.
In fact, by agreeing on meeting norms as part of an interactive exercise, teams may agree on additional rules, for example those based on their own experiences of bad meetings.
When it comes to establishing team norms, they shouldn’t be limited to just team meetings though. They should include the desired behaviors of all team members, for example around providing feedback, or generally what’s expected of them in their roles.
Saberr not only helps teams to establish these norms using an interactive team exercise, but we also provide managers with the templates and resources to actually embed these behaviors into their day-to-day work. You can learn more about this here.