Question: My team was split 7-6 on one specific ground rule.  One person was absent who would have made it 7-7.  When setting up ground rules, I had told them that I had some that were non-negotiable but we'd vote on others and majority rules.  How do I avoid a battle between people when we discuss them again in 3 months?  I already heard someone is lobbying someone else to change their vote.

Both sides seem to feel rather passionate about their points!

rgbiv99's picture

What is the ground rule that stirs up so much controversy?


MsSunshine's picture

The ground rule is not to allow eating in meetings.  And this is not just meetings longer than an hour but any meeting around those times.

What has brought this up is one person likes to eat at 11 and 2:30 every day instead of the typical lunch time.  We're not talking about snacks or even sandwiches but full meals on plates with knives to cut the meat.  Some of it has had strong smells.  The people who voted for allowing food were in different offices and aren't really affected.  All of the people in the same office except his best friend voted for no food.  HOWEVER, no one on the team had mentioned that it bothered them to me.  I did not propose this rule either.

I talked to HR about it and they told me to tread EXTREMELY CAREFULLY.  He's ethnic and has already make accusations of discrimination.  HR told me it either has to be all or nothing or I could get myself into trouble.  My solution has been to force the team to take breaks so he can eat.  But I know he's going to force the question next time we do ground rules.

I personally believe this falls into the distraction category.  I have thought just to state that it is my rule like no electronics. boss has been known to bring her lunch into a meeting because she didn't get to it.  However, that is a rare case.

jhbchina's picture

Ms Sunshine,

Is their a company policy about weapons in the office? How sharp is the knife?

Sorry to see that your DR has followed through on their threat. Is it possible for you to arrange a meeting with HR & the DR. Prewire the meeting with HR on a plan, then bring the DR in and focus on their "ethic concerns" and other accusations of discrimination. Then formalize a plan with HR on how to address this and future issues including threatening to disrupt the workplace.

Good Luck



thaGUma's picture

Sounds like your original apporach, taking breaks to allow meals, is the easiest. I agree taking meals during meetings and even at a workplace is distracting.

I am ignorant of any ethnic requirement for meals at the times stated. If it is the Company should formally recognise it or give you the backing to dissallow eating meals outside set times. A company usually sets meal times and often provides an area for meals to be taken away from the workplace. I don't think HR or your bosses are giving you the support you need.


bug_girl's picture

I had to laugh when you mentioned knives...where I work everyone has a knife.  I was struggling with a box the other day and one of my interns whipped out a knife that would have made Crocodile Dundee proud.
Of course, we are outside all day, so the context is a bit different :)

The bigger questions to me are:

--is this a religious or health thing?  (some people need to eat at regular intervals for bloodsugar, etc.)

--why, now that this person knows it's bothering some people, isn't he stopping? If it isn't for health/religious reasons, that becomes an interesting question that might help you learn more about him. 

The suggestion to involve HR and tread carefully is a good one.  Good Luck :(

mmann's picture
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I was always taught you can bring whatever you want to eat as long as you bring enough for everyone!

I think what many are hinting at, but not saying is, your problem appears to be larger than stinky food in a meeting.  This is a symptom... you might have to go find the chronic problem.  Allow me to make an observation.

Voting on ground rules has created a false dichotomy, polarizing the team on two possible outcomes.  Are there other options that would make the issue dissipate?  (sorry, I couldn't resist the pun)




jhbchina's picture

Ms Sunshine.

Have you thought of holding a meeting on the purpose of ground rules.  I am preparing a seminar on making meeting work, and I came across some interesting website on meeting ground rules.

So - email your team these links, ask them to review them, and then hold a short meeting to discuss all your ground rules, and include the "NO EATING" rule and how it prevents the meeting from being productive. This covers HR's concern that you are not discriminating vs the "problem child" since you stated your case with facts from websites that state that ground rules are important.

Ok - here are the links

If you need more google the term meeting ground rules

Good Luck



MsSunshine's picture

Thanks for the input.  The lesson I learned is that I wasn't prepared for this level of controversy on ground rules.  We'd already had ground rules for 4 months and they were pretty much viewed with a collective YAWN ... but people did follow them.  Any time you do a vote type of thing I need to be prepared for people to disagree and have a plan to handle it.  Or better yet, follow the "pre-wire" advice and not get surprised!

I think I'm going to do a combination of teaching people what ground rules are for and working with individuals to get the to come up with a solution.  We have a wiki with the ground rules so I can put the links there and point people to them.  I can also talk about them at our one-on-ones.

The comments that I don't want this to turn into a battle between the teams are right.  So, that is best solved by talking to them and "pre-wiring" the discussion ahead of time.

The discrimination aspect does have me concerned.  HR has warned me to be very careful what I say and do - in the group and individually.  But I think with a little more thought I can find a way.  I don't think either side is unreasonable.  They just are very opinionated.