Meeting guidelines and ground rules are basic tools for successful meetings

Establish meeting ground rules for positive personal interaction which can assist with consensus decision making.

Think of the meetings you have participated in over the past year. Did you feel like a valuable member of the team? Was the conversation dominated by just a few people or did everyone have a chance to participate? Were your ideas asked for, or better yet, were your ideas considered and thoroughly discussed?

There are simple ways to make sure that everyone feels open to contribute during meetings, that decisions are made in the best interest of the organization, and all attending are respectfully treated as true team members who are essential to the decision-making process. Establishing meeting guidelines and ground rules will lay the framework for positive personal interaction and better group decisions.

How do you establish these meeting rules? Simply ask each committee or board member for one ground rule that they believe is important to follow to help make meetings more productive. Write these on a flip-chart pad so that everyone can see the list. Continue round-robin style with one idea from each person until all are satisfied that the list is complete. Review the entire list of ground rules and agree as a team to follow them to guide and improve the meeting process. Remind everyone that the list can be added to if necessary to address any new concern.

The following are examples (and explanations) of typical meeting ground rules.

  • Be willing to reach consensus. Keep an open mind that there probably is an acceptable decision that everyone can support, even if some degree of compromise is required.
  • Strive to meet the stated purpose and expected outcomes of the meeting. If you can achieve this, then the meeting will be successful. If you get stuck with difficult discussion, refer to the purpose and expected outcomes to re-focus energies.
  • Respect the agenda. Make sure the agenda details which items are listed for discussion, and which items involve decisions. Plan how much time is targeted for each item to make sure the meeting is finished in a respectable time frame.
  • Listen actively to others. Listen to understand what is being said. Do not “pretend” to listen while you are thinking of how to respond to statements others have made.
  • No one-on-one side meetings or conversations. This is really distracting. Essential discussion is meant for everyone!
  • Manage your own input – no long speeches. Be clear in thought when you have opportunity to give your opinion.
  • Do not interrupt other participants. Be respectful to others, as you would expect the same for yourself.
  • Leave the meeting with a clear sense of next steps. Make notes of who is responsible to do what and by when! Include this information in meeting minutes.
  • Discussions will be treated as confidential as appropriate.
  • Once consensus has been reached, support group decisions and actions. Do not leave the meeting after decisions have been made and talk about how your idea was the better one.

Assume responsibility for yourself and any commitments that you make to the organization. If you no longer have time to commit to the organization, then you should resign your position on the committee or board for someone else.

Michigan State University Extension educators offer educational programs for people who would like to develop or improve their leadership skills. To contact an expert in your area, visit or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

For other articles on successfully running effective meetings, see:

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