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BLUF - How do you deal with a team who strongly rejects the idea of ground rules in meetings? 

Background - I'm a high S & C, experienced manager at a new company, and while trying to make as *few* changes as possible in my first 90 days, I realize that so much of my success depends on effective meetings, and effective meetings depend on having ground rules.  So I approached the subject of ground rules in a staff meeting, asking for feedback on what they thought about the idea, and possible ground rules they would like or expect.  In return I got the following responses:

- why do we need ground rules, are we children?

- everyone should know how to behave already.

- if someone misbehaves in a meeting, that's a manager problem that you need to handle.

I obviously should have pre-wired this and even waited the full 90 days (I'm 3 weeks in).  But even if I had, I think the reactions would have been the same. 

Should I abandon the idea of ground rules for the group and just hold myself to the standard ones (agenda, on time, parking lot, fruit bowl...) or is there another path to success with this?

TomW's picture

In order:

  • from your response, yes, apparently you are
  • yes, they should. And we're doing this to make sure.
  • it is, and this is the way I'm dealing with it.
STEVENM's picture

Somehow I suspect Toms first answer might not have gone over well. :P  So think that if you want, just don't say.  Should you abandon the good idea?  I don't think so.  Ease into it instead.  As you begin running meetings implement ground rules in small steps. 

Step 1.  Figure out what the biggest time sink is in your meetings that is unnecessary before you do this.  The biggest and least enjoyed (by others, not you). 

Step 2.  Then make one ground rule to attack it.  Don't call it a ground rule, just say at the beginning that it's a thing.  But hold people to it.

Step 3.  Profit.  If you've eliminated something people dislike that is a time sink it'll be hard not to.

Generally speaking, change is far more likely to come from "Hey, look what he did.  We want more of that." than it is from "Hey, stop jumping off cliffs.  That's stupid."

rwwh's picture

You could also discuss the merits of the meeting with the team. Are they all enjoying them very much? Are they well run? If so, what makes them good? If not, what could make them better. Collect the results on a flipover sheet. And then at the end, write "Ground rules" on the top and take it with you to followup meetings.... 

uninet22's picture

Great suggestions, keep them coming! 

I don't think the team realizes the problems with the meetings they've been having, sort of like asking the fish about the water.  One of the team members is a high D and runs absolutely roughshod over his teammates.  Having listened to all of the casts about "Handling Meeting Killers" I realize the importance of ground rules for "The Dominator", but the other members of the team seem to have just adapted to their dominate coworker and are 'fine' with the way things are.  So in their eyes, perhaps I'm creating a mountain out of a molehill. 

Hopefully I haven't done anything unfixable.  I'm thinking I'll just resume relationship building for the rest of my first 90 days and see how things look after that.  In the mean time, I like the idea of probing each individual for things they don't like or would change if they could.  Then see if I can build from there. 

robin_s's picture

One thing I instituted at our team meetings was a few minutes at the end to evaluate the meeting itself, called a "Did Well, Do Better".  This might be a first step to introduce ground rules, and the ground rules might come out of the suggestions offered there.  You might have to initiate the conversation....things like, "did well - we finished on time", or "do better - we didn't cover everything on the agenda".  I try to be specific with both categories - to get people to think about how to make our meetings more effective and shorter (we've gone from nearly 2 hour team meetings a year ago to 60 minute meetings).  If a problem surfaces frequently in the "do better" category, then ask your team what "ground rule" would eliminate that problem.  For instance, if a meeting frequently runs long (something almost no one likes), then identify the cause (going off topic, one person dominating the conversation, etc) and ask your team to suggest a rule to address the issue.  If the purpose of ground rules it to solve problems that the team has identified as real, there should be less resistance.