Each one of us has attended a bad meeting at some point in our lives. We have wandered into meeting rooms, notepad in hand, sometimes unsure of why we have gathered or, more often, confused as to how we are to reach the desired goals. We have experienced speakers who dominate conversations or engage in meandering arguments, while others stare listlessly out the window, their feet bouncing and their eyes sliding in the direction of their vibrating smartphones.
Interestingly enough, people often shy away from setting out norms at the beginning of meetings. Some may say that the act of outlining rules of conduct and process creates a feeling of restriction, whereas others will argue that it deflects the group from plunging into the topic at hand: after all, we are all adults, how hard can it be to make basic communication work?
Yet, norms are the very foundation of communication and our coordinated behaviours. They regulate not only the rhythm of our work lives but also our common conceptions of what is right and wrong. While they are relative and change over time, norms are the very basis of each culture.
This is why setting out norms is so important for facilitators, for our task is to create temporary but effective micro-cultures. Talking about and outlining rules can be a very effective team building exercise that ensures a smooth and productive flow of information and creates a more inclusive and respectful environment.
Our experience in bad meetings actually make us experts on the topic and most groups can easily come up with meeting guidelines to make meetings more productive. By asking each person to write down one or two problems that they have witnessed in one of their past meetings (in school, at work, or in their personal lives) and one or two solutions to each issue, a facilitator can give each attendee or sub-group an opportunity to offer their expertise and participate in a joint effort.
While the focus of the exercise may be on negative meeting experiences, it is important to remember that the goal is the creation of a positive set of norms, which will be experienced by participants as non-restrictive because it is the offspring of their shared past experiences, intelligent analysis and creativity.
If handled correctly, this exercise will give participants a sense of purpose, remind them about the rules that they have to follow in order to fulfil the meeting objectives, and create a positive team atmosphere. A clearly outlined structure will therefore make the participants feel that they have contributed to what is bound to be a more engaged and engaging meeting experience.
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!