Developing the ground rules

March 21, 2012

Meetings are microcosms of an office’s culture. They reveal the practice’s true values. Consider a dental practice where meetings are infrequent, poorly run and allow team members to be late, bored or passive. One could conclude that this behavior extends to all areas of the practice, including the treatment of patients. It would suggest that team members’ ideas and opinions are not highly valued and the processes of decision-making and problem-solving are not priorities. In contrast, an office that holds frequent, well run meetings where team members are expected to contribute likely has a culture where collaboration, team work and communication are highly prized. Which practice do you have? Which practice do you want to work in?

Meetings are microcosms of an office’s culture. They reveal the practice’s true values. Consider a dental practice where meetings are infrequent, poorly run and allow team members to be late, bored or passive. One could conclude that this behavior extends to all areas of the practice, including the treatment of patients. It would suggest that team members’ ideas and opinions are not highly valued and the processes of decision-making and problem-solving are not priorities. In contrast, an office that holds frequent, well run meetings where team members are expected to contribute likely has a culture where collaboration, team work and communication are highly prized. Which practice do you have? Which practice do you want to work in?

At some point or another, most of us have been to meetings characterized by high drama and little productivity. Unfortunately, every time a group of individuals meets there is the possibility that disagreements will be handled poorly.

Ground rules represent a collection of agreements the team makes about how they will treat one another. Ground rules prevent meetings from running “a-ground.” They create a sense of order and safety within the group so that individuals can share their ideas comfortably. Because it is crucial that ground rules reflect the team, you can’t simply impose them on the team. The team needs to work together to identify their own norms.

To create your own set of ground rules, ask the team what agreements they would like to make about what they should and should not do during meetings. Ask, “How would we like to behave so that our meetings are safe and productive?”

Following is a list of classic ground rules. Your team can adapt, edit or add to this list to create ground rules that reflect your team’s dynamics.

Respect each other

Be specific  

Be punctual

Avoid killer phrases such as “we already tried that” or “it will never work” or “yeah, but”

Silence equals agreement

Check assumptions

It’s okay to disagree; it’s not okay to be disagreeable

Be tactful

Honor views that are different from yours

Listen without judging

Practice active listening

No side-tracking, stay on topic

No back-tracking for people who are late

Turn off cell phones and do not leave to answer calls

Critique ideas, not people

Take initiative for involving others

Be open and honest

Stay present

Abide by the ground rules

If you oppose, then propose

No meetings after the meetings

Develop your own ground rules and post these in a prominent place where it can be seen while you meet. If a team member violates a ground rule, calmly point to the list and ask the team member to respect the written norm. At the end of each meeting do a quick evaluation to see how well the team abided by its ground rules. Developing and abiding by ground rules is a crucial element of productive and successful team meetings.