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How to Agree on Rules of Engagement for Better Meetings

By October 25, 2010October 26th, 2013No Comments

If you want to get more work done in your meetings, agree to some “rules of engagement.”  Set the expectations of how participants will interact and stick to them.  It’s amazing how a group can monitor its own processes and progress if they set expectations from the outset.

What kinds of “rules of engagement” should you have?  Here are some examples:

  • We will start on time and end on time.

This common courtesy is far too often overlooked in the workplace.  The convener waits as people straggle in late.  Or no one cuts off the meeting at the time scheduled for its end.  These practices encourage everyone to find this meeting not serious, or not important, and the start-and-stop times get worse and worse.  When it’s time to start, close the door and begin.  Allow latecomers to be embarrassed.  The behavior will change.

  • We will prepare.

Preparation means that someone has circulated an agenda of sorts, and everyone who is contributing information to be reviewed and/or acted upon has circulated that information prior to the meeting–a day or two prior to the meeting!  It is a total waste of time in a meeting to introduce new materials that participants have not had the chance to review.  This rule works two ways–the people responsible to contribute materials for any given meeting agree to circulate them in advance, and the people participating in the meeting agree to read and be prepared for discussion.

  • Our meetings are not for reporting.

This is one of my favorite rules.  Because I think meetings should be reserved for action, I prefer to have reports of any kind ahead of time.  I want time to read, view, or listen, and I want time to think, analyze, synthesize, and learn.  If those who are reporting prefer to make their reports orally and don’t want to spend time writing, give them tools to simply record the report and circulate an MP3 file, or do a flip-cam video, or send a power point around.  You are not going to get solid decision-making at a meeting if critical information is presented on-the-spot rather than ahead of time.

  • We will observe time limits.

Some people dominate meetings, taking far more time to express their point of view than the meeting warrants or that others can tolerate.  But absent rules of engagement, it’s hard to cut them off.  If the convener or leader does not intervene, it’s even harder.  So why not set expectations ahead of time?  Say, for example, a “3-minute rule.”  No one may hold the floor for more than 3 minutes, uninterrupted, unless the group asks them to continue.

  • We will be nice.

In some company cultures, it is considered acceptable for people to berate each other, call names, swear, carry on, rant and rave in a meeting.  If that’s sometimes or often the case in your meetings, understand that most people cannot accomplish any meaningful work in that kind of environment.  I don’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t have important conversations where points of view differ.  But don’t allow attacking the person–stick to the ideas and treat people courteously.

These are a few of my favorite rules of engagement.  I’m sure you will come up with your own.  But if you document and publish a few key rules to guide your behavior in and about meetings, you’ll find them getting much more productive, sooner.

And why does that matter?  The ability to work together, fast, is a critical attribute of a fast-growth culture.  If you have old-fashioned, outmoded, counter-productive work habits on your team or in your company, you cannot operate in a fast-growth mode.  Meetings are one of the many processes that Whale Hunters review and revise!

This is Blog Post #2 of a 10-post series devoted to “How to Get More Work Done in Meetings and Make More Money.”  Stay tuned for the rest of the series.