One simple way to improve your next meeting

Someone recently asked me for the one thing I would recommend they do to improve their meetings. I quickly answered "ground rules." Here's why and how you can double the productivity of your next meeting.

As a performance coach, I spend about 500 hours a year in meetings. Probably more actually. The one thing that tells me if a meeting is going to be effective is an agreed upon a set of clear and effective ground rules for how the meeting will be conducted and what behavior is expected. Without these, meetings often fall apart and don’t produce the quality results my clients and I expect.

Ground rules are not hard to create. But deciding on them correctly and having the discipline to enforce them as a group can be a struggle. If you haven’t used ground rules before, or the ones you have are not serving you well, use these five steps to enforce them and have meetings that produce outstanding results.

1) Set ground rules as a team

It’s much more effective to create ground rules as a team rather than as an individual who must impose them on the group. When one person creates and enforces them, they end up being the meeting police and creates a NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) mentality for everyone else. Instead, start your next meeting by brainstorming ground rules as a group. Have a list ready in your back pocket, but give ample time for the team to create their own rules, and only introduce yours as suggestions for the group.

2) Brainstorm ground rules and don't veto any, yet

Start by creating an unfiltered list of potential rules and don’t leave any out. Encourage the team to come up with creative and fun ideas. I’ve worked with teams that do stretches before every meeting to prevent back problems, and others who begin with affirmations or a meditation to improve their state of mind. No idea is off the table. And don’t begin filtering your list too soon! The best ideas usually come up toward the end of the process. Build off of existing ideas to create new more innovative ones.

3) Strive for unanimous consensus

After brainstorming, identify the rules the team would like to consider adopting. Use consensus to adopt rules. If you come across a rule that several people would like but not everyone can commit to, discover why and modify the rule until you reach a full consensus. For example, if only a few people don’t agree to turn off their cellphones, try compromising with silent or vibrate phone settings. Another tactic is to agree to a limited test period, meaning to try out a new rule for a few meetings and only continue to use it if everyone agrees.

4) Have everyone agree to enforce the rules

By generating the rules as a group and creating unanimous consensus, everyone is invested in enforcing them. This job shouldn’t fall to the meeting facilitator. Sometimes I even suggest a ground rule like, “everyone is responsible for enforcing rules ─ when you see something, say something.” Then if I’m facilitating, a ground rule gets broken, and nobody in the group reacts to someone breaking a ground rule, I’ll remind others to enforce the rule, rather than enforcing it myself. This prevents me from being a cop, and it keeps everyone responsible for enforcement.

5) Review and revise your ground rules regularly

Ground rules need to be reviewed and revised on a regular basis, just like any process. High-performance teams develop a culture of continuous improvement and are always looking for ways to make meeting time more valuable and to reduce wasted time. I generally suggest that you check in with your group on which rules work and which ones don’t once every four meetings. Also include your ground rules in any retrospective you conduct, and consider adding and editing rules to address other areas of improvement.

Every team needs a clear set of working agreements to be effective in both the short and long term. Ground rules are just one such set of agreements, specifically for meetings. Good teams have a set of rules that are enforced. Great teams have a set of rules that have been internalized and push the team towards higher levels of self-discipline and productivity.

Interested in a developing a set of ground rules for your team? For a FREE list of over 50 ideas for ground rules, click the link below:

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Bruce Eckfeldt is an expert in organizational development and performance coaching. Previously an entrepreneur and a former Inc 500 CEO, he now advises startups and high-growth companies on leadership and management. He is a long-time member of the New York City Chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and a mentor for the EO Accelerators, ERA, and SBS programs. You can reach him at or visit his website at