A Simple Tool to Make Your Meetings More Effective

Michael Glazer is a Tokyo-based Senior Consultant whose client work spans 15 countries across four continents. Learn more about Michael here.

“Meetings are mostly a waste of my time.”

 As a professional facilitator and someone who helps clients build high performance teams, I hear comments like this a lot. Generally, people want to do their best and contribute to the team. People are also busy and want to focus on getting things done.

Part of the trick of making meetings effective is preparing well for them. My pre-meeting checklist includes making sure that the upcoming meeting is necessary. And, every meeting I facilitate has an agenda (not just a list of topics to discuss). One of the many benefits of writing an agenda is that it becomes clear who needs to be at the meeting and who doesn’t.

There’s one more thing I prepare for every meeting I facilitate: a set of ground rules.

Ground rules are nothing new. They are expectations that the meeting participants voluntarily share about how they will behave during the meeting. The idea is that following ground rules helps makes meetings more effective. A strong set of ground rules describe behaviors and consider both the meeting’s goals and the people who are in the meeting. Effective ground rules are not imposed, they are agreed on by all the people who attend the meeting.

When I facilitate, I propose three or four ground rules and then ask each team member if they will commit to follow them. Many times, we edit and add one or two points to the list. Here are a few I use often:

  • Listen to each other (try to understand first)
  • Separate the issues from the individuals
  • Share ideas concisely
  • Keep devices off and out of sight
  • Keep one conversation in the room (don’t have side-bar conversations)
  • Be on time
  • Use humor
  • Check that the conversation is at the right level of detail
  • Give both challenge and support
  • Say your half-thought-out comments out loud

As I said, one factor to consider in writing ground rules is who will be in the meeting. For example, I have one Japan-based client that uses English as its internal language for business, but less than one-third of its senior management team members are native English speakers. When I facilitate meetings with them, one of the ground rules they insist on using is “no big words.” And having this shared expectation makes it easy for people on the team to speak up when they do not understand what is being said.

I also worked with one IT team that had a standing rule against using jargon in meetings. And, they found a fun way to enforce it. Team members carried little yellow referee flags with them to meetings. Each flag had the word “nonsense” printed on it. They playfully threw their yellow flags at one another when someone used jargon during a meeting.

How about you? What ground rules do you find work well at your meetings?