Groundrules Provide a Foundation
Many meetings we attend, particularly at conferences, begin with an announcement of “ground rules” . They tend to include an admonishment to keep things confidential and listen respectfully. Once the meeting starts, the ground rules are forgotten and oftentimes ignored.
The speakers at these conferences are misusing ground rules and worse are giving them a bad name. However, for teams to maximize their effectiveness, known and enforced ground rules, or behavioral norms, are critical.
The norms ought to be relatively few--five to seven. And they ought to deal with both the team’s work and interpersonal expectations. For instance, a possible norm is that pre-reading is mandatory. Another may be that all team members submit any potential agenda items at least five days before the meeting.
Interpersonal expectations could include never interrupt another speaker or to be aware of how much time you are talking at a meeting--not too much nor too little.
One of my favorite norms is the requirement that all members of a meeting be completely present. In order to follow that norm, phones and computers are to be closed. (I know you take notes on your computer and are just using it for that. However, let’s be honest, every now again, checking email seems quite important.)
The best way to promulgate norms is to ask the team what it needs to function most effectively. For a team that has already worked together, they probably recognize some areas that need attention. For a newly formed team, the norms will be based on prior experience. In either case, it is imperative to check on the effectiveness of the norms after three or four meetings.
Once promulgated, the norms ought to be clear to the team members who should be reminded of them at the start of each meeting.
If you are going to promulgate norms, team members must be held accountable to them. Otherwise, not only are the norms not credible, the leader loses credibility for not following through. At the start, it will probably fall on the leader to enforce accountability; however as the team matures, each member should hold themselves and other team members accountable.
At first, it can feel awkward to enforce norms . However, it can be done quickly and quietly. At a retreat I was facilitating, we had agreed to the “be totally present” norm. A few times during the meeting, I saw a member of the team looking at their phone and just gently said, “remember to be fully present”
and the phone disappeared.
As the meeting was coming to a close, I asked, as I always do, for the participants to share their appreciations and regrets about the meeting. To my surprise, one of the appreciations was the gentle reminder to be present. And the person being appreciative was the one looking at his phone.
Think about creating team norms or if you have them, reviewing the current ones for effectiveness. If team members know what is expected of them, they are more likely to be effective and efficient.