The 8 golden ground rules for successful meetings

Whether you’re holding a meeting for idea-sharing, problem-solving, team-building or training, it’s important that it’s time well spent. 

To hold an effective meeting, you’ve got to establish the ground rules you want everyone to follow before you can expect people to be as effective as they can be, or in the way that you need. 

Ground rules aren’t necessarily just about etiquette (e.g. turning up on time, putting your phone on silent) either, though of course, these are helpful. 

Roger Schwarz, for the Harvard Business Review, states that, in terms of establishing meeting rules, it is “behaviour rules” that are more useful. These behaviour rules should “describe specific actions that team members should take to act effectively.” 

An example might be: 

If you venture an idea, offer at least one example of your idea in practice. 

This type of rule not only encourages people to offer more robust ideas in a meeting but also enables others a way to understand it better (the example).

By setting out ground rules in terms of behaviours and ensuring these are met, it encourages an ethic of engagement, commitment and informed decisions. 

Here, we’ve laid out 8 ground rules for meetings that follow this principle in order to maximise productivity, engagement and improve team relationships.

1. Share all materials before the meeting

This rule usually applies to whoever is organising the meeting, but it’s also relevant to anyone who has necessary information to share.

Providing all the key materials before a meeting allows attendees to familiarise themselves with the details so that everyone is working from a common starting point.

It also means the time within your meeting can be spent more constructively, for example, highlighting problem areas together, discussing solutions, and settling on a final decision. 

Just think, if you’re spending time “getting up to speed”, you’re not making progress.

2. Engage with views and ask questions

We’ve all experienced meetings that have felt more like monologues than discussions, when they weren’t supposed to. 

Making the effort to ask questions and elicit views - even if this is aimed at only a few attendees - actually encourages everyone in the room to participate more freely. This is because, by hearing different viewpoints, other members can gauge the relevance of the input they want to give to the discussion at hand.

RELATED: Running successful and effective virtual meetings

3. Support your meeting conclusions with reasoning

If it’s a great meeting, there’ll have been lots of dynamic discussion and ideas generated from it. But these ideas (or learnings, conclusions or actions) need to be supported by reasoning. 

By getting attendees to illustrate the thought process involved in reaching any decisions, you’re making sure the results match up with your original objectives or, importantly, tracking how they evolve.

4. Agree on key words and provide examples

Context is everything. Certain business terms can mean something different within your workspace or department, or even the project you’re working on. This can be exceptionally confusing when people come together and use them in a meeting.

Provide examples and agree what specific words mean in context, so everyone in the meeting is using the same words for the same reasons.

5. Problem-solve by focusing on “needs”

An unproductive meeting focuses on the effects of a problem. A productive meeting identifies the needs of a problem in order to move towards a solution. 

This is the difference between purely analysing what has gone wrong and looking at what work is left to do. The latter allows people to see what’s achievable, rather than what can’t be changed.

It’s a subtle but effective psychological approach, which not only avoids unnecessary conflict and upset, but also puts people in a more hopeful, forward-looking mindset - which is infinitely better for getting the job done. 

6. Clarify assumptions and beliefs

Certain statements made in a meeting can arise from faulty information or from only understanding half the picture. See step 1 about sharing relevant information before a meeting. 

Yet, when faced with this scenario, people often don’t speak up or challenge an idea they have doubts about for fear of offending whoever is speaking. 

However, checking assumptions that have led to a decision or idea is an important practice that ensures the whole team is working on the basis of correct information and guidance.

7. Broach difficult subjects

While it might seem uncomfortable at the time, if something is standing in the way of achieving better results, and it’s appropriate to bring it up in a meeting, it should be discussed face to face. 

Handled tactfully, in a way that focuses on the pathways to a solution (see step 5), it allows for transparency in working relationships and creates a space for resolution.  

8. Work together on the next steps

Everyone should be involved in the decision-making of how to move forward on a project or issue. It makes the team feel engaged and considered, and improves the chances of committed team performance. 

These golden rules cover the basics of a successful meeting, but how do we make sure these meeting ground rules are put into practice?

Assess and agree on what the ground rules mean

Whether it’s 5 or 50 people in a meeting, the rules won’t apply unless everyone agrees to follow them. 

Taking time to discuss rules and develop a common understanding of what they mean raises the likelihood that they’ll be followed consistently, no matter what the meeting agenda is or how many people attend.

Ground rules are powerful tools that improve team performance and working relationships. By following these rules your participants will feel engaged, valued and committed to an efficient and productive meeting.

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Your complete business toolkit

Rovva puts everything you need for your business in one place. From an accountancy helpline to a drop-in business lounge - we've got everything covered.