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Meeting Guidelines Written

Meeting guidelines improve efficiency and reduce conflict, especially when the group writes them down and agrees to them. In this video Craig explains a set of meeting guidelines from an actual group that he worked with.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey it’s Craig Freshley here. And I want to talk for a few minutes about meeting guidelines.

Now a lot of groups have what we might call unwritten meeting guidelines, right? There’s a culture for how meetings happen. Other groups might start off a meeting with, like, some meeting ground rules on a flip chart or maybe even on a screen. But some groups have meeting guidelines written down. And I want to tell you about this group and these meeting guidelines that they have agreed to. They’ve written them down and at the start of every meeting they pass these guidelines out as a reminder to how they’re supposed to act in meetings.

Now you might think, “Oh come on are you kidding me? Written guidelines for how were supposed to act in meetings?” But this group is a group that meets every month over and over again. And their meetings are four hours long! So making sure they have shared understanding of how they interact — who does what, how the agendas are set, all those kinds of things — is a worthwhile investment in their time.

Now what I want to do is put this piece of paper right on the screen and explain to you some details about these meeting guidelines. First of all you can see that there are five different headings. Values, Cancellation policy, Techniques, Minutes and Roles.

We start with the values and they are just like….you might call these the soft and fluffy things. You might call these the social skills. “We treat each other with kindness and respect.” “When we disagree we assume best intentions.” “We want to hear all views.” These are the kinds of things……they speak to the culture; the way that they treat each other when the rules are not clear. Values are what you are doing when you think no one is watching. So this group has thought long and hard about their values and they’ve written them down.

Now over here on the right-hand side of the page is a cancellation policy: very practical thing especially here in Maine when we have snow in the winter. We are all clear ahead of time what happens and how it gets decided if the meeting is to be canceled.

Techniques. There is a six specific things here and top of the list is “separate the process from substance” by having and respecting a neutral facilitator. “Encourage in-person participation yet support remote participation.” Now this is increasingly in an issue in meetings – that people want to participate remotely. We have the technology to do it and a lot of our meetings we use a service called GoToMeeting. There are many other screen sharing applications and of course we have the ability to do conference calls and hear each other’s voices. But that is not the most effective way to reach decisions in a group setting. Not bad for sharing information but when we have to talk and compromise and resolve conflicts, in-person is best. This group has decided to have a ground rule that we really want you here in person, but if you actually can’t help it we do provide for remote participation and there are some details about how that happens.

“We finalize and document all decisions.” This group writes them down right in the moment. They do straw polls.

And at the start of every meeting there are a few things that they do. They approve the agenda. They approve the previous minutes. They clarify roles (more on roles in a minute). And they get an update from their coordinators committee, that’s like their executive committee. And at the end of the meeting they do some specific things – basically it’s a review of that meeting and set up for the next one.

There is a little section here about minutes also because this group wants to make sure that their decisions are documented and there some protocols here specifically about that.

Down at the bottom: Roles. Look at all these roles! Let me talk about these a little bit. The chair develops and circulates the agenda. That’s really the most important thing that they do and they facilitate all parts of the meeting not delegated to the facilitator. What this group has decided to do is that when there are parts of the meeting that require a discussion and decision — parts of the meeting where there might be conflict — they let a neutral facilitator handle those parts so the chair can participate.

The vice chair steps up when the chair is not available.

The facilitator plans and facilitates the most dynamic parts of the meeting. Notice that: plans and facilitates; doesn’t just, like, jump in and start doing it. The facilitator has maybe talked with presenters in advance, knows the issues, has a detailed plan for how that part of the meeting is going to happen. And again they’re neutral.

Now look at this, the minute taker circulates minutes etc. but also takes notes on the screen where helpful or arranges someone else to do. This group has found it useful to have somebody taking notes on a laptop connected to a projector up here on the screen so everybody can see it in real time. Now in a lot of meetings that I facilitate I do that while I’m facilitating but that is a honed skill that I’ve been practicing for years. So a lot of groups that don’t have a professional facilitator like me, they divide that job up. They have one person be the facilitator and another person be the screen-typer, if you will. That’s a role in this group.

Technology manager. This is the person that makes sure that the screen sharing software is working properly, in-room projection, and speakerphone. Not only that, there is a speakerphone advocate and this is the person who’s making sure that those people on the speakerphone can hear everybody in the room and that we are remembering that they exist, because so often times we have somebody on a speakerphone and we don’t fully include them in the meeting. This group has decided to designate a specific speakerphone advocate.

And lastly the room setter-uppers: These are the folks that get there early and set up the room.

So first of all, in the process of agreeing to these guidelines this group talked through how they want to have meetings and that process in itself helped them unify as a group and really understand how they wanted to interact with each other. It helped set their culture right from the start. Then, once they wrote it down, they have now a guideline for setting the standard for best behavior in meetings and frankly for calling each other out and holding each other accountable when we are not on our best behavior in meetings.

I think this is just a one a really good example of many different kinds of examples of a group that takes their meeting process so seriously that it’s more than just an unwritten culture, it’s more than just a half a dozen guidelines written on a flip chart. It’s a document that they have worked on, that they have agreed to, and that they hold themselves accountable to.

So thanks a lot for listening to what I have to say about documented meeting guidelines. And here’s hoping that you help your group make good group decisions. Thanks for listening.

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