Ground Rules for Effective Meetings

  • Start with a shared goal
  • Have an agenda (distributed in advance if possible) and clear, relevant topics
  • Have all needed participants present – and no one else
  • Start and end on time
  • Assure broad understanding of how decisions are made
  • Voice any disagreement with the process immediately
  • Stay on topic
  • Speak openly
  • Listen carefully
  • Don’t let people disappear – check out silence to get all views
  • Challenge ideas, not people
  • Use the last 15 minutes to summarize, recap, conclude, assign follow-up tasks and, if necessary, schedule follow-up meetings
  • Attribute conclusions and decisions to the group, not to a person
  • Support the group outside the group

Here’s a simple solution to the common problem of meetings that don’t start on time or have to keep re-starting because people show up late. The person in charge of a group or committee merely has to start meetings on time and keep going when latecomers arrive. When people realize they will miss something by being late and then have to waste their own time seeking a recap, they miraculously become able to manage their schedules. It never takes more than a properly run meeting or two for people to start showing up on time.

Meeting room

Jane complains about meetings in Chapter 17 of A Merger of Equals. Here’s part of what she has to say:

“Meetings were another constant irritant. Not only were there too many of them, but no meeting at the Company ever started on time. In the apparent belief that instantaneous arrival was possible, people habitually left their offices at 2:00 for a 2:00 meeting on another floor. We actually had a concept called “Company Time,” which ran about ten minutes behind real time. This was a standing joke, but we all tolerated it. Some people even set their watches behind to compensate for it.

Everyone complained about the late meeting issue, but virtually no one dealt with it effectively. One group imposed a $10 fine on latecomers – as if timeliness were a requirement only for the poor. It became routine in that group for people to show up late and further disrupt the proceedings by flinging a ten-dollar bill on the conference table as they sat down.

Worse still was our corporate tendency to recap what stragglers had missed when they waltzed in well after meetings finally did get underway. Not only did this repetition reward latecomers and punish timely arrivers (in a staggering reversal of logic), but it caused many meetings to conclude without covering all their agenda items, let alone accomplishing their objectives. Naturally, this made it necessary to have more meetings.”