Most meeting leaders use norms or rules of engagement to referee meeting behaviour, but what exactly are these rules or “norms” and how do we best generate them? Merriam-Webster defines a norm as:
2 : a principle of right action binding upon the members of a group and serving to guide, control or regulate acceptable behavior.
As facilitators, when we generate norms we’re helping the group define and agree to a list of actions that will guide or regulate behavior. What’s the most effective way of generating this list?
Some groups and situations better suit the facilitator “telling” them the norms. Here are some circumstances when the facilitator should ‘tell’ norms:
Usually, though we like to have groups generate their own norms to help ensure buy-in. Here’s our five-step process for groups to come up with their own rules of engagement:
STEP 1 (5 minutes):
STEP 2 (2 minutes):
STEP 3 (5 minutes):
STEP 4 (5 minutes):
STEP 5 (3 minutes):
Once norms have been defined, how do you gauge the quality of the norms being generated? After all, you’ll be relying on these rules of engagement to guide your interventions when dysfunctional behaviours threaten to derail your meeting.
Ensuring Norms are Meaningful
Groups often come up with ‘value based’ norms, such as: act respectfully toward each other. This type of norm is difficult to referee and may cause confusion as respect tends to mean different things to different people. It’s therefore much easier for the facilitator to referee norms that are concrete, such as one person talks at a time. We always suggest converting these ‘value based’ norms (e.g. respect, integrity, etc.) by asking questions that encourages participants to reframe values into concrete behaviours.
Using the example above, you could ask the group: “imagine you’re a group of participants acting respectful with one another, what concrete behaviours or actions would you be demonstrating that shows respect?” Participants will start to give concrete behaviours like: one person talking at a time. Make sure you flipchart these immediately. Once the final list is created, test for agreement to ensure the group can live with the defined behaviours.
Let us know what norms or guidelines you use to ensure your meetings are as productive as possible.
Do you have a unique meeting challenge not covered by one of our blog posts? We’re always looking for different dilemmas to discuss in our articles!