Ground rules for meetings: Crafting a platform for contribution

In this article, we will explore how to set the ground rules for your meetings to make sure you and your team remain focussed and productive.

Robert Mitson
Robert Mitson
Business meeting in a glazed meeting room

Like all social interactions, meetings are marked by the nuances of human behaviour. Interpersonal connection is just one of the many reasons that meetings are, and always will be, so important. But meeting personalities  can also create challenges. 

For example, certain individuals can be more inclined to dominate discussions, and others are prone to slipping from the meeting agenda and its pre-agreed agenda items. These may sound trivial, but they have a significant impact on the overall success of your meetings. 

While we would never seek to remove the intricacies of the human spirit from meetings, it is important to guide behaviour and provide structure in order to ensure that meetings achieve their desired outcomes. After all, meetings take up a lot of our time, and so we want them to be as productive as possible. 

Setting basic ground rules for meetings helps to positively drive the human behaviours that support productivity, and to avoid those that detract from it. Ground rules for meetings ensure that everyone starts from the same place.  

In this article, we will explore what ground rules are and how they can help you remain focussed and enhance your meeting productivity. 


Ground rules for meetings: What are they?

Setting ground rules for meetings might feel somewhat uncomfortable. After all, we often resist undue authority. Etiquette, on the other hand, is difficult to resist. Therefore, for our purposes, we can consider ground rules for meetings as ‘meeting etiquette’, and frame them as guidelines rather than ‘rules’. 

Once you explain these in simple terms to your team, it will be difficult for them to challenge the validity of your company’s meeting etiquette, given that it is derived from the fundamentals of respect and courtesy, both personally and professionally. 

Therefore, think of the ground rules for meetings as the chairs upon which your participants sit. Each is equal in height, comfort, position, and prominence - nobody has an advantage, and all are aligned around a common goal. After all, your ground rules should give participants the platform to contribute fully and fairly, which is important for everybody involved. 


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Keeping your meeting etiquette grounded

Just as a chairs have four legs, the ground rules for meetings have four tenets or pillars:

1. Respect

Respect is important everywhere in life, and especially in the workplace. It is crucial to creating psychological safety in your workplace, which in turn promotes innovation and enhanced collaboration. In meetings there are a number of considerations that might not immediately spring to mind when we think of respect, and in this section we will cover them. Respect is a two-way street, both the meeting organiser and the participants need to embrace respect by default, so we will consider them separately.

For organisers

Meeting organisers need to respect participants' time. If a meeting is arranged for a certain time, then it needs to start promptly, and end when it is scheduled to. It might sound basic, but ensuring that your participants can leave on time for their next commitments is an important step in hosting effective meetings

For participants

Meeting participants should respect the meeting organiser and other participants by arriving on time, and preparing in advance so that they can fully contribute to a meeting. After all, everyone wants meeting participants to be on time and well-prepared. 

Participants should also be respectful in the way that they communicate in the meeting. Views should be raised in a way that is tactful and mindful of those in the room, and feedback should be given in a way that is constructive rather than incendiary. In an effective meeting, participants should work together to solve problems and address issues, rather than standing on opposite sides of the line. 


2. Expectations

Expectations are an important step on the journey to successful meetings, and they allow both participants and meeting organisers to ensure that frustration, intimidation, and inefficiency are removed from the meeting process

Meeting organisers should be very clear with their expectations ahead of the meeting. This means that participants arrive at meetings knowing what to expect from the meeting, but also what is expected of them. Nobody enjoys being blindsided in a public forum, and therefore setting clear expectations is a vital ground rule for meetings. 


3. Preparation 

As with the ground rules for meetings discussed so far, preparation affects both meeting organisers and participants equally.

Meeting organisers need to ensure that they are fully prepared to run their meetings, with a sharp focus on objectives, a clear agenda, and all meeting materials distributed well in advance. We can all recall meetings that feel ill-prepared, and undoubtedly share the frustration of wasted time through these meetings. 

Providing the meeting organiser has done their part to prepare the meeting thoroughly, participants need to arrive fully prepared. This means having reviewed the agenda ahead of time, done any pre-reading, and engaged in any asynchronous collaboration or communication ahead of the meeting. This way, participants can be sure that they have done everything they can to maximise the impact of meeting time - some agenda items could have even been cleared before the meeting begins. 


4. Outcomes 

It might seem very basic: What is the point of meeting if outcomes aren't achieved? Despite this, how many meetings can we all recall that achieved very little? Far too many - and the problem of meeting madness is widespread throughout the business world. 

Therefore, a vital ground rule for meetings is a focus on meeting outcomes. This needs to be clearly stated by meeting organisers, but also should be in the minds of every participant. Keeping a focus on the desired outcomes of meetings helps to keep discussions from digressing too far, and allows for more effective measurement and optimisation of your meetings.  


How to implement your ground rules for meetings

Now that we are clear on what ground rules for meetings are, and that we have established some important guidelines, let's review how you can put them into action, noting that both organisers and participants have important roles to play in this process. 

Organisers: The craftspeople

In the context of our chair analogy, meeting organisers are the craftspeople. They are charged with ensuring that the ground rules for meetings are created in such a way that they fulfil their purpose, making sure that they provide a stable, fair, and effective platform for participants to contribute and achieve meeting outcomes. 

This might sound like a tall order, but it’s actually quite easy. For starters, using guides like this one are great starting points for building ground rules for meetings in your own organisation. Once you have developed a set of ground rules that you think are fit for purpose, the important next step is to circulate them for feedback, and obtain buy-in from your organisation. Following this, you will be able to add them to your company wiki or distribute them internally, and begin to use them. 

Participants: An active role to play

Now, if organisers are charged with crafting the chair, then participants simply sit on them, right? Wrong. Participants have a very active role to play in ensuring that ground rules for meetings are upheld - not least of which is following them. In addition to this, participants should provide feedback . Is the chair comfortable? Even and sturdy? Can it be improved in any way? All of this should be front of mind for meeting participants when considering ground rules for meetings.


Ground rules for meetings: At the core of our meeting framework 

While many of us hold negative views on ‘rules’ and what they represent, we can see that ground rules play a vital role in the meeting process by providing the foundation for meetings to take place in an efficient and equitable manner.

For this reason, they are a vital component of our proprietary framework for productive meetings: Azend®. This framework addresses the three dimensions of meeting management: People, processes, and technology, optimising them throughout the entire meeting process. 

Under the ‘People’ dimension, Azend® specifically addresses the idea of ground rules, encouraging leaders to establish clear ‘Meeting Values’ which should be lived across your organisation. To help you optimise your leadership meetings and enhance productivity, discover more about meeting management and the Azend® framework today. 

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Robert Mitson
Robert Mitson
About the author
Robert is passionate about shaping and communicating value, and in his work as English Content Specialist he creates insight to help leaders across Europe to make every meeting count.