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7: Use Ground Rules

Ground rules spell out the rules of the road for how to behave and interact in your meeting. Ground rules clearly articulate and encourage the desired behaviors and discourage the undesired behaviors that derail meetings. Properly communicated and enforced ground rules will take care of 99% of dysfunctional meeting behavior. Ground rules give you and other participants the “permission” to redirect derailing behavior. Customize your ground rules to the meeting at hand. Ground rules need to be clearly articulated and agreed upon at the start of the meeting. You can either present the ground rules, or have the group create the ground rules. The former is faster, the latter is better if the group meets on a regular basis because it allows people to have a say in how they want to interact—remember people usually support what they help to create. Either way, make sure that participants know that it is EVERYBODY’S JOB to enforce the ground rules.

A few all-purpose ground rules include:

  • One conversation at a time: We listen to who is speaking, and we don’t carry on sidebar conversations

  • One topic at a time: If we are talking about “X”, we don’t go on tangents to talk about “Y” until we are done with “X”

  • Land the plane/Bottom lining: We try to be succinct and to the point

  • Don’t beat a dead horse: We don’t keep repeating ourselves or revisiting decisions already made

  • E-etiquette: We agree on how we are using (or not using!) electronic devices in our meeting

  • Full engagement: We agree to be fully invested and engaged

  • Timeliness: We agree to show up on time, start on time, and end on time

  • Share the air: We consciously try to make space for everybody to contribute (e.g., extroverts make space for introverts!)